Star Wars at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg? Not quite, but the first movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony truly reminded me of the battle between good and evil, laser swords drawn, and the eery, spacey soundtrack of Episode VII. It was even more impressive yesterday evening, when performed live by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela under Gustavo Dudamel with Yuja Wang at the piano and Cynthia Miller on a device called “Ondes Martenot” (Martenot Waves) than on my recording of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly. This music is very powerful and has had a lasting impression on me, especially in its many subtle tones.
Shocked, No. Amused? Definitely. Yesterday evening the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst performed Olivier Messiaen’s piece “Chronochromie” in Luxembourg. Those 25 minutes were an interesting sound experiment and an excellent prelude to Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem op. 64 “Alpensinfonie” that was to follow after the pause.
Luck was on my side yesterday evening: First, the Doric String Quartet introduced me to Thomas Adès, a contemporary composer, and to “The Four Quarters”, a highly interesting piece. Second, the cellist John Myerscough explained in a few, well-chosen words the structure of that work in order to pave the way for a greater acceptance and a better understanding of this example of Neue Musik. He succeeded on both accounts. The setting of that enriching experience: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam – my first ever visit in that prestigious concert hall.
When I close my eyes, I can see the stone tower. The first of Cécile Marti’s “Seven Towers”. It is not very tall, but the double bass suggest it has a massive rectangular shape. Reassuring for those who find shelter in it, but a provocation for anyone else. A strident violin evokes an imminent danger, and sure enough invaders try their luck. Timpani thunder through the Berne casino, and yes, I see waves of soldiers clashing against the tower. But the building resists, it stands majestically, calm in the middle of the turmoil. Nevertheless the next wave of attackers rolls on: crescendo! It get’s really loud, and then: change of tempi, change of style!