December 10th was the centennial of the birth of Olivier Messiaen, one of the 20th century’s greatest composers, and one of our favorites. Last night, we got to see a performance of his Turangalîla-Symphonie at Carnegie Hall, which was an unbearably thrilling and rhapsodic experience. Which doesn’t have anything to do with a comics blog, but we’ll try desperately to find a connection.
• Messiaen was a real life Hogan’s Hero: as a prisoner of war in a Nazi prison camp, he composed his “Quartet for the End of Time” using the only available instruments: a violin, a cello, a clarinet, and an upright piano. The piece, recognized as a masterpiece of the 20th century, was first performed for an audience of 5000 guards and prisoners on a frigid night in January, 1941.
• The symphony — comprising 10 movements of slashing, percussive and soaring themes performed by a full orchestra aided by vibraphone, piano, cowbell, and the theramin-like ondes Martenot — is taken from two Sanskrit words and inspired the name of a popular character on Futurama. (Matt Groening is a fellow Messiaen fan.)
The venue was perhaps two-thirds full, and we were curious to see who my other fellow admirers were…a mix of folks, many young, and all, we got the impression, extremely knowledgeable about classical music. No one made a move to clap between movements, although the performance — by the Yale Philharmonia, and conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw — was so very inspiring. De Leeuw was a friend of Messiaen’s and is known as one of his most important interpreters, and we would say the reputation was earned, as de Leeuw kept the abruptly changing moods and tempos of the piece together, and the often exotic (one might say sci-fi) orchestral registers clear and in service to the extreme sensuality of the music.
All in all, it was quite remarkable, an experience we would recommend to all.