Video projections by Rose Bond for the OSO performances of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphonie. Photo: Jacobe Wade.

This past weekend I played Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, a piece that I will, in all likelihood, never get to perform again. That’s not something that one says lightly, for the career of an orchestral musician, by necessity (and for better or worse), involves playing a relatively small core of works over and over again. For lovers of this epic, ecstatic, and gargantuan piece, this is the second time to hear this work in this decade, as the Seattle Symphony performed the piece for the first time in its history back in 2013.

For me, it was only on our third performance Monday evening that I felt like I could truly enjoy this piece. Why? Well, it presents many challenges to the performer. First is its sheer length. The viola part is 66 pages long. The piece has 10 movements, of which the fifth, entitled Joie du sang des étoiles (Joy of the blood of the stars), is fully 14 pages long! Second is the harmonic complexity and the complexity of the rhythmic writing. Due to his theory of Modes of Limited Transposition, Messiaen takes his motives and repeats them on several different pitch levels (or modes). Messiaen also enjoys taking his motives and sliding them off of the beat, usually by a small amount (a sixteenth-note or eighth-note, depending upon the meter and tempo), and this keeps one on one’s toes constantly. Combine these two factors, and you’ve got a lot of music to keep track of, and it means you are learning essentially the same material over and over again, and need to remember which is coming up when (and often it is coming at you a breakneck speed).

But once you get through all of this, what an amazing journey it is! As Oregon is one of the states where recreation marijuana is legalized, I’d say this piece is one that might be best enjoyed in an altered state, especially with Rose Bond’s video art that was projected around the hall for these performances. I’d highly recommend against performing the piece in an altered state, however! The sheer orchestral color, texture, and volume (!) is truly unmatched in the orchestral repertoire (except perhaps for Varese’s Amériques). We had the exceptional soloistic talents of pianist Stephen Osborn and ondes martenot player Cynthia Millar, and a crack team of 10 percussionists that made everything sparkle. I may never again hear the tam tam played so loudly in my life! It was a spectacular run of performances, and one I will fondly remember.

If you’d like to learn more about the Turangalîla Symphonie, I’d recommend this article from the LA Philharmonic’s website: http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/turangalila-symphonie-olivier-messiaen

in solidarity with fort worth and pittsburgh

Our shirts say: "Supporting the Arts means Supporting the Artists".
Our shirts say: “Supporting the Arts means Supporting the Artists”.

Orchestras cannot continue to embrace regressive tactics when it comes to making their business models work. Musicians cannot be outsourced to foreign call centers. We can’t (or shouldn’t) be replaced with robots or machines.

Our training doesn’t get cheaper, nor do our instruments, rents, and housing costs. But managements across the country seem to think that our salaries can shrink, or fail to keep pace with inflation, or be frozen, and it will make no difference to those of us performing in front of the public every week.

Finding new way to make the symphony orchestra an indispensable part of the the modern urban landscape is the way to bring orchestras forward. Fort Worth and Pittsburgh deserve orchestras that are paid commensurate to their skill level, and must be made aware of what having an orchestra of their caliber in their city means for their community.

Managers and conductors see constant increases in their pay “because that is what the market will bear”. Musicians seem to have no such market forces working on their behalf. That is why it is so important for we unionized musicians of the American Federation of Musicians to stick together.

Together, we can make a difference.


there was joy in mudville that night

Even as darkness fell, our fans remained! Photo: Stephanie Kramer
Even as darkness fell, our fans remained! Photo: Stephanie Kramer

Last night, the Oregon Symphony played its annual Waterfront Concert at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. It is the first year that rain has struck the event with any degree of severity. We’ve had some stray sprinkles here and there, but not the out and out deluge that descended upon us Thursday evening.

The Waterfront Concert is always such a fun way to start the season. It’s free to everyone, so we get big crowds – up to 20,000 or so. This year the dire forecast did cut down the attendance somewhat, but we still had thousands brave the elements, and those who did not come down in person were able to listen to the live broadcast of the concert on AllClassical Portland 89.9 on the radio and via web stream.

Much of the day was overcast and blustery, with the rain starting to move in during the afternoon’s set of performances by local arts ensembles. My concert with the Third Angle Quartet at 2:00 was dry, but FearNoMusic didn’t fare as well during their performance at 3:00, when the mist moved in to make everything damp, in spite of the canopy over the side stage area. There was no steady rain in the afternoon, but the portent was set for the rest of the day.

The main event started dry enough, with enough wind present to make my job as page turner more involved than usual. About the time we started the Mozart symphony, the rain really started, and then began to absolutely pour. A few of our less prepared audience members made a run for it at that point, but they were small in number. Most everyone else remained, opened their umbrellas and put on their ponchos, and stayed for the duration.

Can I just say at this point how impressed the orchestra was by our fabulous Oregonian fans? We think that you were all rock stars! It warmed our hearts to see all of you braving the rain and damp and mud to listen to us perform. You have our enduring admiration and respect!

We got to the Bizet, selections from the L’Arlésienne Suite, which featured principal players of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony playing alongside the OSO principals, and there was a brief pow-wow at the changeover in which it was decided to cut several numbers and proceed to the 1812 Overture finale. Norman Huynh made his excellent debut as our new Assistant conductor in music from John Williams’ score to E.T., and then the Portland Youth Philharmonic principals joined us for their side-by-side for the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture. The rain began to taper during the performance, leaving it safe for us to get our instruments to the backstage tents without incident as the fireworks display commenced. We were sorry to miss our collaboration with the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre (Tchaikovsky Serenade), but it would not have been safe for them to dance on a wet stage. We’ll look forward to playing with them again next August!

All in all, it was a dramatic and different Waterfront Concert, but still very rewarding and fun for all!


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