Olivier Messiaen - HarawiTony Arnold, soprano & Jacob Greenberg, piano

, composer


Longtime collaborators Tony Arnold (soprano) and Jacob Greenberg (piano) release a poignant recording of Olivier Messiaen’s evocative song cycle Harawi: Song of Love and Death. The solar chaos of vertigo, green dove, limpid pearl, shared shadow -- these indelible images mark Harawi, the last of Messiaen’s solo song cycles.


Longtime collaborators Tony Arnold (soprano) and Jacob Greenberg (piano) release a poignant recording of Olivier Messiaen’s evocative song cycle Harawi: Song of Love and Death in June on New Focus Recordings. The solar chaos of vertigo, green dove, limpid pearl, shared shadow -- these indelible images mark Harawi, the last of Messiaen’s solo song cycles. The inspiration and title for the deeply colorful cycle comes from Quechua love songs of the South American Andes. Messiaen had long been obsessed by the Tristan legend. He recognized a shared theme of dying lovers between these Andean songs and Wagner’s Liebestod, and this attracted him to this exotic source of inspiration. In Harawi, Messiaen’s own poetic text describes the journey of lovers, at once ecstatic and cruel, on the other side of the world. His solo piano piece Cantéyodjayâ serves as an overture on this disc of lesser-known masterworks.

Tony Arnold

Celebrated as a “luminary in the world of chamber music and art song” (Huffington Post), Tony Arnold is internationally acclaimed as a leading proponent of contemporary music in concert and recording as a “convincing, mesmerizing soprano” (Los Angeles Times) who “has a broader gift for conveying the poetry and nuance behind outwardly daunting contemporary scores” (Boston Globe). Her unique blend of vocal virtuosity and communicative warmth, combined with wide-ranging skills in education and leadership were recognized with the 2015 Brandeis Creative Arts Award, given in appreciation of “excellence in the arts and the lives and works of distinguished, active American artists.” Arnold’s extensive chamber music repertory includes major works written for her voice by Georges Aperghis, George Crumb, Brett Dean, Jason Eckardt, Gabriela Lena Frank, Josh Levine, George Lewis, Philippe Manoury, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Christopher Theofanidis, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, John Zorn, and numerous others. She is a member of the intrepid International Contemporary Ensemble and enjoys regular guest appearances with leading ensembles, presenters, and festivals worldwide.

With more than 30 discs to her credit, Arnold has recorded a broad segment of the modern vocal repertory with esteemed chamber music colleagues. Her recording of George Crumb’s iconic Ancient Voices of Children (Bridge) received a 2006 Grammy nomination. She is a first prize laureate of both the Gaudeamus International and the Louise D. McMahon competitions. A graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University, Arnold was twice a fellow of the Aspen Music Festival as both a conduc- tor and singer. She currently is on the faculties of the Peabody Conservatory and the Tanglewood Music Center.

Jacob Greenberg

Pianist Jacob Greenberg's work as a soloist and chamber musician has received worldwide acclaim. A longtime member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, he has performed throughout the Americas and Europe. His solo concert series, Music at Close Range, shows his equal commitment to classics of the repertoire.

Recent highlights include a guest performance of works of György Kurtág at the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt, Germany, under the composer's guidance; concerts at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; Boulez’s Sur Incises with the Seattle Symphony; and solo and concerto appearances with the International Contemporary Ensemble at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Live performances have been heard on WQXR New York, BBC Radio 3, WFMT Chicago and Radio Netherlands.

As an orchestral player, Mr. Greenberg has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, and Australian Chamber Orchestra. He performs often with the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW. A leading pianist of modern song, he has toured extensively with soprano Tony Arnold; their 2013 recording of Olivier Messiaen's Harawi has been singled out by critics. Mr. Greenberg is also recognized as a coach for contemporary opera.

In addition to his solo albums for New Focus Recordings, which feature works from the Baroque to many new commissions, he has recorded for the Nonesuch, Sony, Bridge, Naxos, Mode, Kairos, Centaur, Tzadik, and New Amsterdam labels. Mr. Greenberg is an award-winning record producer, and has completed discs for major domestic and international labels. He is the director of the International Contemporary Ensemble's in-house TUNDRA imprint. As a composer, he makes recorded pieces with spoken and sung texts. His podcast, Intégrales, explores meaningful intersections of music and daily city life.

Mr. Greenberg is on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center, and has taught at Hunter College, City University of New York, The Juilliard School, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, where he earned degrees in music and religion, and he completed his master's and doctoral degrees at Northwestern University, where he studied with Ursula Oppens. Please visit jacobgreenberg.net.

23 Dec, 2013

NF releases make Best of 2013 Lists!

Time Out Chicago, Rhapsody, the New Yorker, and NPR all mentioned New Focus releases in their Best of 2013 lists. Three New Focus releases were included in Time Out's listing citing Tony Arnold and Jacob Greenberg's rendition of Messiaen's Harawi, Third Coast Percussion's Resounding Earth by Augusta Read Thomas and Claire Chase's Density in their top classical …

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09 Jul, 2013

Messiaen: Harawi - Album of the Week on Q2!

Soprano Tony Arnold and Pianist Jacob Greenberg's performance of Messiaen's exotic song cycle Harawi is being featured on WXQR's Q2 as Album of the Week. In a review of the recording, Seth Colter Wells hails the recording as "one of the best new interpretations of Messiaen in years." check out the coverage …

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Olivier Messiaen's inimitable musical personality is in full bloom on this disc, which focuses on "Harawi," a cycle of love songs with roots in the South American Andes. The French composer blends a distinctive palette of harmonic colors with exotic and ecstatic vocal lines. Soprano Tony Arnold and pianist Jacob Greenberg give the songs fiercely articulate performances, and Greenberg is the dynamic soloist in Messiaen's Hindu-inspired "Canteyodjaya." Grade: A – Donald Rosenberg, Plain Dealer Reporter



You might hear it said that the works of a composer are “conductor proof”—that after a threshold level of competence is met, each performance will seem largely the same. And while the works of Olivier Messiaen are occasionally spoken of in this way, the first seconds of Jacob Greenberg’s energetic new recording of the piano piece Cantéyodjayâ really do blast this idea to bits.

This is Messiaen in which the hairpin-turn changes are navigated with such exuberance that you could mistake it for masterfully composed, adventurous modern jazz. In alternating between the dissonant chords of the opening figure and the knotty, halting-then-blitzing single-note runs that pop up between reappearances of the theme, Greenberg creates a fluid overall feel.

Some pianists linger over the odd rhythm transitions, or amp up the otherworldly connotations of Messiaen’s transfigured harmony. Yet Greenberg carries all those oddities on his back while managing to dance elegantly all the same. It makes his Cantéyodjayâ feel very much of the here and now—a time when International Contemporary Ensemble members, such as this pianist, use their technical prowess to march mid-twentieth century modernist works we thought were interpretation-proof to some exciting new places.

This approach continues throughout the main course offering: a complete reading of Messiaen’s Harawi song cycle, in which Greenberg’s playing supports soprano Tony Arnold. Unlike some other Messiaen texts, this one is not religiously oriented, but inspired by the Tristan narrative. Like Greenberg in his solo feature, Arnold delivers on the interpretive possibilities. Her vibrato on “Bonjour toi, colombe verte” feels rich with Tristan-relevant ardor, while remaining steady and controlled. And the soprano’s breathy articulation of the opening “Doundou tchil” refrain stays on the boil long enough that, in the end, it becomes unusually heated.

Arnold’s flights up toward top notes—on “L'amour de Piroutcha” and the pianissimo finale—all come off with assurance. There are only a couple fleeting half-seconds during which an interval-plus-rhythm switch-up is taken on so aggressively that the execution seems momentarily in jeopardy (as in the dashing penultimate movement). But overall, with Greenberg’s mobility of attack complementing Arnold’s every step of the way, this album feels like one of the best new interpretations of Messiaen in years.

- Seth Colter Walls


NJ Star Ledger

Breaking up a season of light classics, the formidable team of Tony Arnold and Jacob Greenberg offer a compelling performance of 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen’s "Harawi."

It’s a song cycle that takes a love-death theme similar to Wagner’s "Tristan und Isolde," with music that matches the surreal language of lyrics drawn from the South American folk tradition. With a clear, limpid soprano, Arnold makes Messiaen’s challenging creation sound effortless.

With a languid opening reminiscent of Debussy, the cycle goes on to represent vertigo in dizzily spinning passages. The composer’s fascination with exotic birds surfaces in vocal and pianistic imitations.

The songs have Arnold switch from female to male characters, and sometimes the low register of the latter sounds a little uncomfortable. But she and her vastly talented accompanist are in perfect accord throughout, from songs that call for primitive-sounding chanted repetitions to those that build to a wild wail.

The recording also includes a dynamic rendition of "Cantéyodjayâ," a piano work inspired by Hindu rhythms, that gives Greenberg a well-deserved spotlight.

— Ronni Reich


Buffalo News

Soprano Tony Arnold and pianist Jacob Greenberg, two musicians associated with the University at Buffalo, do a yeoman’s job with this ponderous music, something that does not have that big of an audience. I have to say I suffer from Messiaen guilt. I admire his passion for what he did and his devout Catholic faith, and a few people whose judgment I respect have been crazy about him. Still, I find his music hard to warm up to. So while I admire this disc, it is on an intellectual level.

Greenberg is masterful in the 1948, 13-minute long piano piece “Canteyodjaya” (he can play it, but can he type it?). It is robust and rhythmic, and his performance has an appealing freedom. You could tell people this was out-there jazz and they would believe you. Arnold is adept as always, her voice steady and sweet. Between the two of them I cannot imagine a better performance of “Harawi: Song of love and death.” Abstract and very French, the 13 songs – happily accompanied by texts and translations – are distinguished by creative, chiming piano. Arnold, meanwhile, gets to show off part of her vast array of unusual vocal effects. Especially memorable is “Doundou Tchil,” a kind of breathless chant over staccato piano. Messiaen appears to be enjoying himself with this one. And I have to admit I did warm to the gently rocking “L’Amour de Piroutcha,” which can call to mind French and Spanish lullabies.

– Mary Kunz Goldman



Harawi, the last of Messiaen’s song cycles, was composed in the summer of 1945; Cantéyodjayâ was written in August 1949, near the end of his stay at Tanglewood. Both works have in common a somewhat exotic influence: Harawi was inspired by Quechua songs of love and death from the Andes in South America, Cantéyodjayâ by (so the liner notes tell us) “varied Hindu tropes.” Regardless of the influence, however, we must judge the music on its own merits, and to my ears Cantéyodjayâ overstays its welcome. Not only is its harmonic language dissonant to the point of sourness, but the music’s development is rather tame and, to my ears, not terribly interesting.

Harawi, on the other hand, is absolutely mesmerizing; the music moves slowly, à la Erik Satie’s Gymnopèdies, and it has much in common with some of the passages in Satie’s Socrate. The notes say that the song cycle represents the “cruel and ecstatic journey” of two lovers on the other side of the world, and in the eighth song, “Adieu,” Messiaen shows the lovers embracing their physical deaths. They rush into the forest and the great unknown, encounter a green dove and a staircase to the heavens. The cycle ends with the lovers merging “with nature and the dark stars in heaven.”

Soprano Tony Arnold, who has apparently made a career specializing in modern music, has a beautiful voice, lightweight but creamy, and her diction isn’t too bad by modern standards. Her one drawback—and you hear this a lot in modern sopranos, particularly those who do a lot of modern music—is that when she pushes the volume, an uneven flutter appears. I was also surprised by some of her low notes: though certainly not in the contralto range, they have more solidity than I’m used to hearing in a light soprano such as hers. In the third song, “Montagnes” (Mountains), Messiaen resorts to some of the spiky dissonance one hears in Cantéyodjayâ but here, divorced of the elongated structure of the later piece and accompanying a singer, the composer builds interest and brings the voice in (largely in strophes, often on the same note) to act as an “anchor” and thus defuse somewhat the effect of those dissonant keyboard passages. A running, syncopated bass line opens “Doundou Tchil,” over which the soprano whispers those words in rhythm. When the soprano’s melody begins, it first mirrors the initial rhythm and then plays against it. It’s easy to hear, in this piece particularly, the influence of South American music on Messiaen; one wonders if he was familiar with some of the music from that region, of the sort to which North Americans would be exposed by Yma Sumac some four years later.

In the sixth song, “Piroutcha’s Love,” Arnold sings very softly, encompassing a high B in head voice (gorgeous!), and her delineation of this text expressing the tenderness of love for a young girl is deeply moving. The unsteadiness still obtrudes occasionally as she pressures the voice in loud passages, but there is no denying that this is a great vocal artist who knows what she’s doing. “Planetary Repetition” is just that, a repeated chant on the pitch of E while the piano plays ruminative low bass passages, then both piano and voice liven up for high-lying passages where Arnold sings melismas reminiscent of Middle Eastern music before returning to plainchant. It ends with a livelier rhythmic base and almost syncopated vocal lines higher up in the soprano’s range.

The remaining songs follow similar patterns to those above, but I was pleased by the fact that Messiaen did not really repeat any effects in the music, and some of those songs, in whole or part, have some really lovely melodies in them. If I have one caveat about Arnold’s singing, it is only that the essentially round, soft quality of her voice sometimes inhibits her from “giving out” in a really exciting way on some of these rhythms, but that is a small complaint indeed in the face of such largely beautiful singing.

Of competing versions, I’ve heard the one by Charlotte Riedijk accompanied by Joanna MacGregor, and it isn’t as good as this; there’s also a version on EMI by Michèle Command, who did such a splendid job with the songs of Koechlin (see my review elsewhere in this issue), but it only appears to be currently available in a massive 14-CD set on EMI. Dorothy Dorow on BIS gives a good, workmanlike performance, but to be honest, her voice wasn’t as pretty as Arnold’s. I can most definitely recommend Command on the basis of her other work, but for a single-disc version of this attractive and fascinating song cycle, Arnold’s is the one to get.
–2013 Fanfare


Audiophile Audition

Harawi is the last of Olivier Messiaen’s song cycles for solo voice. His lifelong fascination with the music of other peoples led him to the South American Andes’ Quechua love songs. He was long fascinated with Wagner’s Tristan and its concept of the love-death, the fatalistic image of two lovers desiring one another yet knowing that their journey will be impossible, and readily and even eagerly rushing to their demise. The imagery is vivid and direct, the music a little dense and not unlike Stravinsky’s Les Noce in its presentation of declamatory melody surrounded by  intense—and typical for Messiaen—rhythmic gyrations.


Opening the disc is a piece based on a series of rhythmic Hindu tropes that found their way in general into the composer’s music post-1940s. Canteyodjaya is, according to the words of the composer, a “nostalgic” piece, but I doubt anyone hearing this music will consider anything promoting pleasant feelings of old. Compared to more accessible works like Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus this one is a lot thicker going even though it is not without its rewards.

Tony Arnold is a marvel in this music, a real new-music trooper who knows the intricate ins and outs of Messiaen, while Jacob Greenberg, also a proven contemporary music warrior, plays with authority and rigorous inventiveness. Sound is clear and vivid, nicely captured. Not for everyone, but Messiaen diehards will want it.

—Steven Ritter


Time Out Chicago

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is an Olivier Messiaen fan, and you will be too…in the deft hands (and vocal chords) of Tony Arnold and Jacob Greenberg, anyway. Enamored with the plot similarities between Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and the Andean love-death songs known as Harawi, Messiaen created a fated romance of his own, here invigorated by two titans of the new-music community. A soprano of formidable range and extensive timbral palette, Arnold navigates the dichotomies of introversion and extroversion, dreamy infatuation and bold pronouncement, with unencumbered tone and bright delivery of the text. The resoluteness, almost defiant approach Arnold offers in No. 7, “Adieu,” could be inserted at the conclusion of any staged drama’s second act, regardless of plot, and it would induce an ovation. More symphony orchestra than mere piano, Greenberg unleashes behemoth chords in his finale of the same movement. Whether shadowing, buoying or commenting, Greenberg proves himself a near-clairvoyant collaborator.



Arnold and Greenberg emerge as enthralling interpreters of Messiaen’s "Harawi," with a strong rapport. In the birdsong inflections of "Bonjour toi, colombe verte," both are confident and expressive. "Montagnes" taps a primal vein and gives vibrant life to descriptions such as "purple-red" rock and "the solar chaos of vertigo." Through the folkish "Doundou Tchil," the love song of "Piroutcha," the incantation-like "Répétition Planetaire" and the frantic, pecking accelerations into the sweet ending of "Syllables," they provide a valuable window into a work that deserves attention.

—Ronnie Reich/The Star-Ledger


Cleveland Classical

Olivier Messiaen is unique in music history. He is perhaps the most intensely religious composer since J.S. Bach, despite living in the 20th century, when most artists and intellectuals abandoned faith. Yet his belief was anything but orthodox: sensual love and sacred mystery mix on a cosmic scale.

He was synesthetic, so that he heard chords as colors. And he originated total serialism, where pitches and rhythms are standardized, so that a specific note will always have the same articulation and duration in a piece. Serialism became the predominant compositional method during the 1950s. It is some of the most difficult and maligned music existent, but Messiaen’s use of it is comprehensible and attractive.

The solo piano piece Cantéyodjayâ (1949), with which pianist Jacob Greenberg opens his and soprano Tony Arnold’s excellent new CD of the song cycle Harawi (New Focus Recordings), is a case in point. Despite containing a section of serialized rhythm (one of the first pieces to do so), it grooves. Greenberg deploys a wide variety of sounds and attacks in episodes sandwiched between the refrain of a demented melody over a spasmodic rhythm.

And then comes Harawi (1945), a twelve song, nearly hour-long cycle inspired by Peruvian love songs and the myth of Tristan and Isolde. Arnold and Greenberg deserve commendation just for learning the work, with its scattershot, percussive piano parts, challenging vocal lines, and demand for both lyricism and violence.

The mystical text is by Messiaen himself and based in his idiosyncratic faith. Consisting of two lovers’ professions of devotion and their acceptance of an unknown death, it chains together ecstatic images, colors, and onomatopoetic utterances; love, nature, and the sacred mingle to become a final, transcendent power.

What is the music for such a text like? Rapturous, profane, caressing, clamorous, beatific, or simply mind-blowing. Like in Cantéyodjayâ, there is a strong rhythmic element. Many of the vocal melodies are surprisingly simple (though that doesn’t mean easy to sing), especially in comparison to the often crazed piano parts surrounding them. A common structure alternates tranquil melodies with frenetic, harsh piano interludes, brilliantly executed by Greenberg. Many of the songs are orgiastic dances with almost jazzy rhythms and frenzied singing, like “Syllabes” (“Syllables”) and “L’Escailer redit, gestes du soleil” (“The Staircase Retold, Gestures of the Sun”).

Part of the work’s power comes from its juxtaposition of aggressiveness and quiet adoration. For instance, rhapsodic, dissonant curlicues on the piano evoke the harsh cries and flight of a bird over sweet chords in “Bonjour toi, colombe verte” (“Hello there, you green dove”). This tension is especially apparent in the varieties of singing. Arnold forcefully declaims her text in the chaotic “Montagnes” (“Mountains”), ominously chants it in the ritualistic dance of “Dondou Tchil,” and immediately afterward serenades her lover in the naïve “L’amour de Piroutcha” (“Piroutcha’s Love”). At other points she screams, ululates, and rages, then unspools a gorgeous tone.

One hymn-like theme recurs multiple times over resoundingly tonal chords, contented and loving. Each time, Arnold and Greenberg imbue it with both tenderness and understated strength. In “Adieu” (“Farewell”), the center of the cycle, they slowly allow it to become wildly impassioned. When it returns a final time in the last song “Dans le noir” (“In the dark”), that pain is gone, and the piano traces starry constellations that slowly descend through the chorale, the lovers merging with the earth and relaxing into eternal peace.

- Daniel Hautzinger

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