Austbø and Messiaen
photo: Gérard Chauvière
Håkon Austbø met Olivier Messiaen for the first time in
1970. He had already performed several of the composer's pieces and worked
with Messiaen's wife, Yvonne Loriod,who advised Austbø to enter
the international Messiaen Competition at Royan the next year. In preparing
for the competition, Austbø worked at several occasions with the
composer not only on his own music but also on Debussy, Jolivet, Stockhausen.
The unanimous jury awarded Austbø the first prize and his playing
during the rounds was very much acclaimed in papers as Le Monde and Financial
During his whole career, Messiaen's music played an important role
in Austbø's activities. He performed excerpts of the two main cycles
of Messiaen, Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus and Catalogue
d'Oiseaux, on numerous occasions in many countries. He performed Oiseaux
Exotiques, Réveil des Oiseaux and Turangalîla Symphonie
with major orchestras such as the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Residentie
Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, the Oslo Philharmonic,
the Bergen Philharmonic and the WDR Symphonieorchester.
Olivier Messiaen heard Austbø again in 1986 in the Hague and
stated the following:
J'ai assisté récemment à un magnifique
concert de Håkon Austbø, concert dans lequel il a interpreté
une grande partie de mon "Catalogue d'Oiseaux" pour piano seul.
In 1988, at the occasion of Messiaen's 80th birthday, Austbø made
a CD recording of excerpts from Catalogue d'Oiseaux. Messiaen consented
to be artistic supervisor of this recording and to pose with Austbø
for the cover photo (above). At the same occasion they made a double interview
J'ai trouvé là un interprète rêvé
pour ma musique. Håkon Austbø a une magnifique technique,
un toucher plein de charme aux timbres variés, et il sait recréer
une athmosphère, un paysage, un chant d'oiseau, avec une intense
poésie. Son jeu a un pouvoir d'envoûtement magique sur l'auditeur,
qui se trouve transporté dans un "ailleurs" aux couleurs féeriques.
In 1991 Austbø performed the entire cycle Vingt Regards
after having worked on the separate pieces since 1969. His performance
was a sensation at Utrecht as well as in Oslo. After Messiaen's death in
1992, he undertook the recording of the entire piano work for NAXOS.
The Vingt Regards was released in 1994 and immediately acclaimed
as a major event (recording of the month in Gramophone). Classic CD compared
all the available recordings of this work and Austbø's came out
as "the lightning lead". In 1998 the Catalogue d'Oiseaux was released
and won the Edison award. It was followed by
the Preludes, the Etudes and the miscellaneous pieces, and the final disc,
including La Fauvette des Jardins, is planned to be released end
As this cycle of recordings progressed, Austbø continued to
perform Messiaen's works with orchestras, solo, and in chamber music. A
unique project worldwide was his performance of all Messiaen's works with
piano (excluding the orchestra works) in 8 concerts in
Oslo between April, 2000 and April, 2001. Not only the entire piano
solo works were performed, including the Catalogue d'Oiseaux in
two concerts with projections of images from the landscapes that inspired
Messiaen, but also all chamber music works and the complete songs. At this
occasion, the Dutch soprano Ingrid Kappelle undertook the huge task of
singing the entire vocal œuvre of Messiaen, which the two of them will
record in the course of 2003.
Austbø's performance of the Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus
New York in 2000 was a great success, acclaimed by the New
York Times. Equally successful was his performance of the same piece
in Tokyo, 2002, where the Musashino Hall was sold out for months before.
He has also given numerous masterclasses on Messiaen's music in cities
like Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Oslo and Stockholm. When the Messiaen
international piano competition was resumed in 2000, he was member of the
jury presided by Yvonne Loriod.