Certainly one of the most storied pieces of music in history is Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatour pour la fin du temps,” or “Quartet for the End of Time,” which was written and premiered in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. Messiaen on piano, joined by three French colleagues on clarinet, violin and cello, performed outdoors in the rain for some 400 fellow prisoners and guards. “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension,” Messiaen later recalled. For Moretown clarinetist Dan Liptak, the first time he heard the quartet, in 2006 by the Craftsbury Chamber Players in Hardwick while he was a student at Hartt School of Music, proved an indelible experience. “I remember driving home after that concert, just totally blown away by the experience of listening to this piece of music,” he said. “That really stuck with me.” Liptak had the opportunity to perform it once some 10 years ago, and now wants to do it again. “It’s an incredible piece,” he said. “I have an all-star cast of players that were together last spring when we put all this together, and it kind of fell into place.” At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, Liptak will be joined by fellow Vermont musicians — violinist Brooke Quiggins Saulnier, cellist Emily Taubl and pianist Claire Black — in a performance at Stowe’s Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. Conductor-composer Matt LaRocca will add commentary. My experience with the “Quartet for the End of Time" began at about the same age as Liptak’s. Pianist Peter Serkin was hanging around Marlboro College a lot while I was there as a student as his then-wife was a student at the time. Serkin introduced me to the piece, and I was too blown away by the first “modern” music that moved me deeply. (Serkin’s RCA recording with his ensemble TASHI remains seminal.) In 1987, Vermont Contemporary Music was founded on the same instrumentation, and performed the work countless times. Capital City Concerts presented the quartet recently, but my most memorable performance was toward the in the '90s at the end of the Vermont Mozart Festival chamber music series in Burlington, when New York clarinetist Allen Blustine joined the revered Paris Piano Trio. It turned out that Regis Pasquier, the trio’s violinist, was the nephew of cellist Étienne Pasquier, who performed the premiere, and that seemed to make a difference. That performance had an icy intensity that was at once riveting, haunting, deeply moving and unforgettable. “I’m big on music that has a story, and that has an emotional and a sonic impact on people,” Liptak said. “This piece has that.” Messiaen (1908-1992) wrote in the preface to the score that the work was inspired by text from the Bible’s Book of Revelation (Rev 10:1–2, 5–7, King James Version): “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire ...” “It’s such a complex piece musically, and if you’re into that aspect in music, the complexity is just unbelievable,” Liptak said. “You can put the stories behind the piece as well, and they really add a whole other layer to the cake.” The 50-minute work is comprised of eight movements for various combinations of the four instruments. Liptak noted the fourth, “Abyss of the Birds,” for solo clarinet. “You can hear in there just the wanting to be free,” he said. “There are visions of flying out beyond the walls – then the realization that you can’t. “That theme is heard throughout the entire piece, and it’s articulated at many different levels,” Liptak said. “And then you end with this incredible duo movement (“Praise to the Immortality of Jesus” for violin and piano) that is just so uplifting. You think, maybe, there is hope somewhere.” For the players, even veteran professionals, the music is very challenging both technically and musically. “Each individual part is insanely difficult and insanely challenging in and of itself,” Liptak said. “And then add in having to play these four extremely difficult parts all together, that’s the real challenge. “You need really incredible musicians who can play well together,” he said. “Beyond the notes of the page, you have to tell the story.”   Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center Spruce Peak Arts presents Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, 122 Hourglass Drive (off Route 108) in Stowe. Performing are clarinetist Dan Liptak, violinist Brooke Quiggins Saulnier, cellist Emily Taubl and pianist Claire Black, with commentary by conductor-composer Matt LaRocca. Tickets are $25, $20 in advance; call, 802-760-4634, or go online to www.sprucepeakarts.org.

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