Peter Hill has solved a musical mystery and I can’t wait to find out how.

From his first telling of this story, the discovery of a new piece by revered composer Olivier Messiaen, through the painstaking examination of pages of the composer’s indecipherable handwriting, and Peter’s subsequent assembling of the piece, I’ve been hooked. This is a tale of dogged detective work, the patient piecing together of a jigsaw of fragments, illuminated by a ‘eureka’ moment in Paris, as he begins to unlock the puzzle not just of the pages in front of him, but of the fact that in 1961, the otherwise prolific Messiaen wrote nothing at all.

In brief, the story is this. About 18 months ago, Peter set aside time to look at some illegible pages in the archive of photocopies he’d gathered between 2001 and 2004 when he was permitted to work among Messiaen’s papers in the composer’s Parisian apartment. He had previously not had time, or perhaps patience, to investigate these pages, but decided, six or seven years on, to see what he could make of them. Excitement built as he started to fathom their content, a musical sketch emerged, a piece took shape, its form beginning to reveal itself to him.  It’s a fascinating tale, but I’m intrigued to hear it told with the music itself. I want to listen to the notes fall into place under Peter’s skilful hands in the Crucible Studio this Saturday and to follow the revelations in the extracts he will play.

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Peter is one of the most highly regarded Messiaen scholars on the planet. Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise, is quoted as saying ‘Hill’s major achievement to date is his epic survey of the complete piano music of Messiaen…no pianist in my experience has gone deeper into Messiaen’s world.’ He is, of course, highly acclaimed as a pianist, particularly for his playing of complete cycles of Bach, Schoenberg, Berg and Messiaen, the latter endorsed by the composer himself , declaring ‘Beautiful technique, a true poet: I am a passionate admirer of Peter Hill’s playing”

This will not be a dry, academic event. With Peter’s comprehensive understanding of Messiaen’s work and life, and his particular skill as a pianist in balancing intellect and emotion, the reverse will be true. I think that when he brings the story of his discovery to life, in words and music, from the pages of scribbled handwriting to a substantial piece that adds significantly to Messiaen’s repertoire, there will be sparks in the room, and I, for one, can’t wait.

Deborah Chadbourn, Executive Director

Watch videos of Peter talking about and playing short extracts from the piece on Vimeo.

The concert takes place at Sheffield’s Upper Chapel on Saturday 2 November at 7.30pm.

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