Nothing prepares the newcomer to this symphony for its size and scope, and a live performance is an absolutely overwhelming concert hall experience, and one to be caught on the relatively rare occasions it comes round.
Turangalîla is one of two great pieces by Messiaen played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo on 24 May, when the two soloists are Steven Osborne (piano) and Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot).
The ondes martenot is one of the strangest instruments to grace the concert platform – it very rarely does, and more often than not it does so for this Messiaen work, and under the hands of Cynthia Millar. Under the hands because, although it makes a windy, airy sound it is a type of keyboard with its own special drawerful of volume controls. Maurice Martenot invented it in 1928, and so it was still a novelty when his countryman wrote his huge symphony less than 20 years later.
Leonard Bernstein took up the baton for the first performance in Boston, in 1949, an occasion that was a significant success for both the young conductor and the then relatively little known composer. The piece lasts 80 minutes, but despite its length and scale of ambition, Messiaen explained simply: “It’s love song.”
L’Ascension was written by Messiaen in his mid-20s, and is a transcendant and celebratory four-movement contemplation on Christ, written at the time of his marriage to Claire Delbos, a violinist and fellow composer. Tragically, Delbos would lose her memory after a medical procedure, and spend the rest of her life in care. Messiaen would marry again upon her death; his second wife Yvonne Loriod was the pianist in the first performance of Turangalîla.
The two works together add up to an evening that is unmissable.
|What||BBC Symphony Orchestra, Messiaen, Barbican Hall|
Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
On 24 May 17, 7:30 PM – 9:45 PM
|Price||£10 - £34|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|