Messiaen (1908–1992): Les Offrandes oubliées
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23
Tristan Murail (b. 1947): Le Désenchantement du monde, Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (U.S. Premiere–New York Philharmonic Co-Commission with Bavarian Radio, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
New York Philharmonic
David Robertson, conductor
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
From an early age, Olivier Messiaen was a devout Catholic who wanted to "shed light on the theological truths of the Catholic faith" through music and musical symbols. This objective — along with his preoccupation with the sounds of nature, especially birds and their song — dominated virtually all of his creative output. And, like Scriabin, he had the gift of synaesthesia, which enabled him to see colors when he heard pitches. His voice among 20th century composers had a unique, personal vocabulary that ecstatically celebrated God and life; his soundscapes were sensuous and harmonically rich; and his music shimmered with exotic inspirations gained from his avid interest in Eastern music. Les Offrandes oubliées, Messiaen's first published orchestral work, concerns mankind's sinfulness and the possibility of redemption. He provides a prose-poem for the one-movement work: "Arms outstretched, afflicted unto death, you shed your blood on the cross. We have forgotten, sweet Jesus, how you love us. Driven onward by madness and forked tongues, in breathless, uncontrolled, and headlong flight, we have fallen into sin like a bottomless pit. It is here to be found, the unsullied table, the source of charity, the feast of the poor, the well of holy sympathy which is to us the very bread of life and love. We have forgotten, sweet Jesus, how you love us." Les Offrandes oubliées is comprised of three continuous sections, Messiaen explains: "The Cross" (nearly slow, sorrowful, profoundly sad), "a lamentation of the strings, whose sorrowful 'neumes' divide the melody into groups of uneven lengths, broken by deep-grey and mauve sighs"; "Sin" (quick, savage, desperate, breathless), "a kind of 'race towards the abyss' at an almost mechanized speed"; "The Eucharist" (extremely slow, with great compassion and great love) "features the long and slow phrase of the violins, which rises over a carpet of pianissimo chords, with reds, gold, blues (like a distant stained-glass window) to the light of muted solo chords." At the end, this symphonic meditation becomes a wave of sound that seems to hang suspended in a kind of timelessness that points towards eternity.
Tristan Murail once posed a fascinating question: "Can one still write for the piano today? Through the 19th century and to the beginning of the 20th it was the emblematic instrument ... but has it survived the array of tortures inflicted upon it by the end of the 20th century? After the clusters of Henry Cowell, the preparations of John Cage, the ornithological percussions of Messiaen, the electrified mantras of Stockhausen, and the various scrapings and pinchings of strings, what space is left to the imagination?" His new Piano Concerto could answer this question. It was co-commissioned by the Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and is having its US premiere at these concerts. The featured soloist is Pierre-Laurent Aimard, whom the composer has known for some 30 years, but for whom he has never before written a work. Five seasons ago, the Philharmonic performed Murail's Gondwana, an important example of the evocatively named composition technique of spectralism. "Spectralism," he explains, "involves the analysis of the complex structure and evolution of a sound's timbre. These aspects then form the basis for the harmony and melody of a spectral composition." And while the Piano Concerto "will employ spectral techniques to some extent," says Murail, "they are not the basis for this work; rather, my exploration of sound provides models for the concerto's musical structures, giving me a large palette of harmonic and timbral colors and gradations to work withâ€¦almost like a rainbow." And because he is writing for traditional instruments — piano and symphony orchestra — to achieve spectral effects his score calls for changes in the tuning of some instruments. That said, rather than pondering technical issues, Tristan Murail invites the audience "to listen for the actual sound of the concerto, i.e., the relationship between the solo instrument and the orchestra, as well as its abstract psychological structure. Think of it like the interactions among the characters of a novel."
New York Philharmonic Website
Detailed schedule information:
7:30 pm, 8:00 pm