Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the CSO in Messiaen’s immersive Turangalîla-symphonie. (© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015)
After three weeks of world-class, superbly programmed performances, the time has come to say au revoir to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s French Reveries & Passions Festival. May 23rd marked the final large-scale performance of the festival and the end of indefatigable Finnish conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen’s residence with the orchestra.
But they certainly went out with a bang. A big, big bang—and for once, the galactic connotations here are completely fitting.
Two teenage lovebirds snuggling during “Garden of the Sleep of Love,” the sixth movement of the Turangalîla-symphonie.
The lovers are outside time, let’s not wake them. —Olivier Messiaen
In anticipation of the Emerson String Quartet’s performance tomorrow night at the Harris Theater, here’s a very, very underrated video I came across while preparing for my interview with Eugene Drucker. It includes footage of David Finckel’s last performance with the Quartet.
Also, read of the week: Alex Ross’ wonderful, witty article for the New Yorker online about the BPO’s stalemate in selecting a new leader.
“I think maybe I just understand certain things more deeply than I understood them decades ago, that playing together in a quartet involves negotiating the differences between the four personalities.” [The Chicago Maroon]
It was a privilege to interview a member of the inimitable Emerson String Quartet last week. Link to the published interview above.
Another Böhler silhouette: Bruckner meets his idol, Richard Wagner.
Speaking of organists (but gladly moving on from onions), it’s time to return to Bruckner. This post is coming much later than I’d intended it to, especially since the performance examined here now passed more than two weeks ago.
Then again, as I mentioned in the first part of this two-part post, when it comes to me and Bruckner, things tend to be generally slow-going. (A quick recap for those who missed it: After listening to most of Bruckner’s mid- to late symphonies, I still feel overwhelmed by them. They defy my comprehension—and I do very much want to comprehend them.)
Maybe that’s the common ground I share with our composer of contention: Bruckner once said that whenever he had something important to say, musically or otherwise, he had to stop and take a breath first.
Consider last week a breather. Let’s proceed.
“Like onions, organ works by Messiaen have layers: sheets of winds and reeds and principals that create some of the most complex sonic profiles encountered in Western music. That Laube’s playing sautéed this density into transparency (just extending the onion metaphor, folks) was his greatest success.” [The Chicago Maroon]
Apologies to Hannah for the metaphor—she doesn’t like Shrek, see. (Who does she think she is that movie was my childhood.)
“Bruckner at the Organ,” by Otto Böhler.
Okay, I think it’s time to come clean: I don’t like Bruckner’s symphonies.
Nope, scratch that—it’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I simply don’t understand them, and those are two very different things. Jury’s out on whether I sounded convincing enough in my latest CSO review of Bruckner 8, but if you ask me, my bafflement definitely snuck its way between the lines, despite having seen the San Francisco Symphony perform the same piece less than a month before.
Luckily, guest conductor Seymon Bychkov made a strong case for my conversion. During a post-concert talk moderated by CSO artistic programming advisor Gerard McBurney, Bychkov waxed poetic about the Eighth, which he described as being “about everything one lives.” When the topic of the Vienna Phil’s long-standing reluctance to program Bruckner’s works was broached, Bychkov quipped, without missing a beat, “Well, Vienna has only recently become convinced by avant-garde music.”
Avant-garde was far from the the first adjective I would’ve used to describe Bruckner’s symphonies. Even now, when I listen to his symphonies, more than anything, I feel a sense of déjà vu, of melodies and textures heard before and stitched together into a gargantuan, compositely capital-R Romantic whole. And so it was with the Eighth—that is, for a while.