Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, the twenty-nine year old music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, found himself conducting the ten movements of Oliver Messiaen’s post-war Turangalila-Symphonie at the Walt Disney Hall. Providing four performances over the weekend, this review was fortunate to experience Thursday’s opening night, which saw the interior of Frank Gehry’s almost animate design near capacity.
For those unaware of Messiaen, he is considered to be amongst the ‘great composers’, and even though a figure of the twentieth century, his place is ubiquitous in regards to a generational consideration of his talent. Messiaen, an individual vehemently intrigued by his own Catholicism, was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to write what would become Turangalila in 1946, and found himself in a conceptual realm outside of the influence of his faith, this time considering love, at least as a motif, as paramount to religion. Inspired by a momentary fascination with the Triston Und Isolde mythos, which of course was the title of one of Wagner composition, romance was elemental in the case of Turangalila, as was it for the various leitmotifs of the Austrian Romantic’s opera. Turangalila, etymologically a combination of two Sanskrit words meaning “love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death”, subsequently became one of only three compositions that dealt with love as opposed to faith.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic worked accordingly with this clearly elaborate conceptual structure, by proportionately assigning well over a hundred musicians, which on its own provides a grandeur that could override any niche criticisms one could have of the performance itself. Within the marvellous interior of the hall, even with my own prying, inane dismay at the organ not being required by the composition, the orchestra induced a ‘riveting tickling’ of all my sensory criterion, and it was decided that this much adored work was given a most resplendent justice. Dudamel let the race horse of strings off the mark superbly, allowed the bass and crashes to ululate, and then the entropy that emanates from the horn section confirmed the presence of Turangalila’s “Modéré, un peu vif” movement . This opening and reoccurring motif provided a chamber of sound that turned back the mechanisms of time; indeed most particular orchestral performances create a wonderful sentiment of sociological nostalgia. The statue theme, which Messiaen considered as a “oppressive, terrible brutality of ancient Mexican monuments, and has always invoked dread”, summoned the idea that it’s reoccurring nature purposefully connotes some form of recognition of the remembrance of so called “forgotten truths” in an episode of romance or relationship.
Dudamel may be criticized for not perfectly managing the textural aspects of this performance, for example the Ondes Martenot was personally felt to be at times ineffective with its audibility. That of course truly is picking pieces at what naturally, as an opening performance, may be naturally more reserved in approach. The most charming nature of this symphony, when conveyed by an orchestra of this magnitude, and indeed with a conductor as mutually youthful and energetic as the composer was in 1946, is that it results in the listener being enabled to imagine an infinitude of connotative possibilities. Conclusively, Messiaen was a remarkable conceptualist, and Dudamel and his Los Angeles Philharmonic are rightfully the cause for excitement at the impending calendar of events.