Despite what anyone may think, 20th-century composers have not given up on religion, says pianist Kendall Feeney.
Feeney is the artistic director of Zephyr, a Spokane concert series devoted to 20th-century classical music. On Sunday, Zephyr and The Cathedral and the Arts Association present “A Spiritual Odyssey,” an exploration of religious works by French and French-trained composers of the 20th century.
“There is something about French Catholicism that seems to have fostered a continuing interest in religious music,” Feeney says.
Zephyr’s Sunday concert at St. John’s Cathedral includes works by Lili Boulanger, Olivier Messiaen, Andre Jolivet and William Bolcom. Though Bolcom is an American, born in Everett, Wash., he studied with the well-known French composer Darius Milhaud.
Feeney will be joined for this concert by St. John’s organist Charles Bradley Jr., and by soprano Tamara Schupman, mezzo soprano Darnelle Preston, oboist Barbara Cantlon, harpist Leslie Stratton Norris, cellist John Marshall and percussionist Martin Zyskowski.
Most classical music listeners think of the important 20th-century music as being secular - the string quartets of Schoenberg, Bartok and Shostakovich, the orchestral music and ballets of Stravinsky and Copland, the operas of Berg and Menotti.
“Twentieth century composers continue to write music that reaches for the `unseen,’ seeking the spiritual truths religious music has always sought after,” Feeney says.
“Of no other nationality of composers is that more true than the French,” she adds.
Messiaen is one of a long line of important French composer-teachers who have also been church organists - composers such as Franck and Saint-Saens in the 19th century as well as Widor, Dupre and Duruffle in the 20th.
“Messiaen is probably the best-known religious composer of modern times,” Feeney says. “His fascination with nature - with bird calls and stars and landscape - and his visionary desire to connect nature and human love to God and divine love shows up in everything Messiaen has written.”
Sunday’s concert will include Bradley’s performance of Messiaen’s “Vision of the Eternal Church.” Feeney and Marshall playing “Praise for the Eternity of Jesus” from the “Quartet for the End of Time,” perhaps Messiaen’s most frequently performed work, a piece the composer wrote while a prisoner of the Germans in World War II.
Andre Jolivet was another composer of Messiaen’s generation to be drawn to religious music.
“Together with some other young composers, Jolivet and Messiaen formed a group in 1935 they called La Jeune France. They felt that the leaders of 20th-century modernism - composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg - had ignored music’s deeper human and spiritual values,” Feeney says.
xxxx Zephyr presents “A Spiritual Odyssey” Location and time: St. John’s Cathedral, 4 p.m. Sunday Tickets: $12, $8 for students, $6 children 12 and under