Welcome Guests

Turangalila Page One

I’ve had a great weekend of concerts, courtesy of Carnegie Hall and the Saint Louis Symphony, led by David Robertson.  I had a ticket to the Saturday concert, and because I’m a Carnegie subscriber – which means only three concerts! – I frequently have the opportunity to cadge free tickets.  So there I was, in the front row of the Dress Circle Friday night for Turangalîla-Symphonie.  And, wow, what a performance.

The NY Phil could have had Robertson as their music director, but passed in favor of Maazel.  What where they thinking?  As I remarked to the fellow sitting next to me Saturday night, they didn’t want to wake up their subscribers.  Robertson was presenting a Discovery Concert, which meant a half-hour demonstration of the work and Messiaen‘s ideas and procedures, utilizing sections of the work and the full orchestra, and including an explanation of the ondes martenot.  The played excerpts, he showed Delaunay paintings and he discussed Messiaen’s synesthesia, which made him experience a rainbow as literally music from heaven.  Where else does one go with that than mystical Catholicism?

Robertson is an excellent conductor, musician and communicator.  He completely won over the audience during the presentation, and then kicked-ass in the concert.  It was a tremendous performance.  Colorful, energetic, precise in the mechanistic sections and lilting in the lyrical ones.  St. Louis is an excellent ensemble.  During the performance, before the fourth section, Robertson turned to the audience and told everyone that the perfect time to cough would be after the next section, the wild dance movement “Joie du sang des étoiles.”  After they ran through that with joy, the audience burst into loud, appreciative applause, which Robertson gracefully acknowledged.  They did so again after the beautiful “Jardin du sommeil d’amour,” and also after “Dévelopment de l’amour.”  It was great to hear, spontaneous appreciation for the fantastic music-making.  And at the end, after the wonderful final chord which was played with the most beautifully shaped orchestral crescendo I have ever heard, there was wild applause, multiple ovations for orchestra, conductor and the keyboard soloists, Nicolas Hodges and Cynthia Millar.  It was a beautiful and thrilling concert.  Bravissimo, maestro.

Saturday was my original ticket that I was anticipating for the New York premiere of John Adam‘s new Atomic Symphony, which he distilled from his Doctor Atomic opera.  It came at the end of a superbm, and superbly played, program of the Brahms Tragic Overture, the Berg Violin Concerto, beautifully played by Christian Tetzlaff (what a sound he has), and Tapiola.  It’s excellent in the way of Adams best music; immediately appealing to the ear, rhythmically strong, harmonically resonant, dramatically powerful and seeming to be of ideal duration – it ends just when it seems it should.  One of the features is his transcription to the solo trumpet of Oppenheimer‘s great aria, prior to intermission, of John Donne‘s holy sonnet “Batter My Heart, Three Person’d God.”  Seeing Gerald Finley perform that in the original production was one of the greatest things I’ve experienced on the opera stage.  Hearing it as pure notes emphasizes what a wonderful, moving melody it is (Adams writes in the notes that the symphony, which is in one movement with three sections, is partly a response to the Sibelius Symphony No. 7, a work that is very important to me and which I will have an upcoming post on).  The composer as in attendance and got a great ovation, as did Robinson again, at the end, from a hall full of joyous, appreciative concert-goers.  I was one of them.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.

4 thoughts on “Welcome Guests”

  1. Just found your blog; nice to read this post. I saw both concerts in St. Louis, the “Turangalila” at the Touhill PAC and the “Doctor Atomic” concert at Powell, although we got Radu Lupu for Mozart 23 instead of Tetzlaff and the Berg concerto.

    I’ll confess that I’m not a particular fan of “Turangalila”, and the pre-performance talk in St. Louis kind of ran on. Still, support one’s local orchestra, and all that, and they played quite well here.

    I also take it that you saw the NYT and the NY Sun reviews, the latter clearly more hostile than the former.

  2. I did read the Times review, which was not really informative. Did not see the NY Sun . . . I just read it. Wow, what a cloth-eared dolt. The critic, Fred Kirshnit appears to be ignorant of musical material and processes from 1900 on. One thing Robertson did quite successfully in his presentation was to demonstrate how Messiaen created his own synthetic scales and generated harmonic structure from them. It’s not the Classical idea of development, but structure is structure, and Robertson made an important point with that. No, he’s not as dynamic or succinct as Michael Tilson Thomas, but the audience ovation spoke for itself. And the critic is wrong as point of fact about the brass and woodwind sections. Not only was the playing fine and the sound clear, but it was appropriate for Messiaen, who emulates the organ in his orchestration.

    That’s a good group in Saint Louis.

  3. Yes, we are indeed proud of the St. Louis Symphony here, at least the relatively few of us who care about them to continue showing up for their concerts. Attendance has unfortunately plummeted in the first half of the season, due perhaps to a mix of the economic downturn and people thinking that Robertson is “too radical for Clayton” (kind of the St. Louis equivalent of a reasonably swank Westchester or Nassau County suburb). They’ve offered a discount program for the winter months, which may have had some success, but it’s about to end at the end of this month.

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