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'Turangalîla' Opens Tonight

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This preview was cross-posted at DCist:

Christoph Eschenbach is nearing the end of an extraordinary first year as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. A season of rather remarkable programming reaches its spiritual pinnacle with this week's concerts, when the NSO will give three performances of one of the monuments of the 20th-century orchestral repertoire, Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie (March 10-12). Eschenbach's predecessor, Leonard Slatkin, led a performance of this immense and phantasmagorical work ten years ago, and Eschenbach returns to it in the context of this month's maximum INDIA festival at the Kennedy Center (some of the rhythmic patterns in the work are based on Indian Tālas). Messiaen derived the work's title from two Sanskrit words meaning "the flow of time" and "cosmic play," and he described it as a "love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death."

Typically for this visionary French modernist, he explores these cosmic concepts in music of mystical intensity, using one of the strangest orchestral palettes ever assembled, including the unclassifiable electronic instrument known as the ondes Martenot and an enormous battery of exotic percussion. In live performance, it creates an otherworldly soundscape quite unlike any other. For all its Indian and French influences, the work has an American connection: Messiaen composed the piece in the 1940s, for a commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a young conductor named Leonard Bernstein ended up conducting the premiere. Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, once reported that cartoonist Matt Groening is a huge fan of Messiaen, and even named one of the characters on Futurama after the Turangalîla-Symphonie. Each of the NSO's performances will begin with an introduction to the work, hosted by scholar Joseph Horowitz and featuring Christoph Eschenbach, pianist Cédric Tiberghien and composer Tristan Murail, who will undertake playing the ondes Martenot. For more background on the Turangalîla-Symphonie, watch this series of videos, containing a performance of the score "narrated" by Messiaen's comments about the work.

The NSO performs the work this evening (starting at 7 pm), and Friday and Saturday (both starting at 8 pm). Tickets range from $20 to $85. Those between the ages of 17 and 25 should register for the Kennedy Center's Attend! program, to qualify for reduced-price tickets as low as $10, at the Thursday and Friday performances.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was really quite good Thursday evening. Highly recomended for anyone who likes large symphonic works. If you're familiar with Messiaen, you might want to consider skipping the half hour lecture which is the firt half of the program. The NSO chose to use regular glockenspiel in lieu keyboard glockenspiel; same sound but much more fun to watch.