Thursday, 19 July 2018

Gershwin restored to true greatness, Messiaen Prom 6

BBC Prom 6 - Gershwin An American in Paris (new edition) and Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie, two of the 20th century's most iconic pieces, with Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphont Orchestra. Wonderful programme, but pity about the BBC marketing, obsessed as usual with themes and non-musical targets, missing the music itself.  Sure, this is Leonard Bernstein's anniversary but the world didn't revolve around him.  Bernstein conducted the premiere of Turangalîla-Symphonie  but only by chance, and didn't like it, which may have spoiled its reception.  There's a difference between musical perception in Europe and in the US which goes back a long way.  Nadia Boulanger and Messiaen both taught in Paris but operated in different directions.  There are teachers who teach students what to think, and teachers who teach students to think for themselves  Boulanger inspired cult-like deference, while Messiaen's students developed in many different ways.Messiaen's   students wereore diverse, while Boulanger's were largely English speakers. Bernstein thus absorbed the values of Boulanger devotees like Copland, conducting new music though not the new music of Messiaen and his circles which included Boulez. Messiaen adored America and Boulez spent much time conducting there so it's ironic to ponder what might have been. 

When Bernstein conducted  the Turangalîla-Symphonie in 1948, it was way too far for some to grasp. One critic panned it for its "fundamental emptiness… appalling melodic tawdriness…..a tune for Dorothy Lamour in a sarong, a dance for Hindu hillbillies”. If ever there was music in Technicolor, this is it, complete with cinematic swirls of the ondes martenot which we now assocaite with horror movies, though for Messaien there were no such connotations.  .Sakari Oramo doesn't conduct a lot of Messiaen but his Turangalîla-Symphonie is wonderful because it seems to appeal to his exuberant spirit.  This symphony explodes with the sheer joy of being alive.  If it is oddball, that's good, because its energy embraces human experience in all its aspects. Why shouldn't serious music be blissfully happy ?  Please read my article Sublimated sex: Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie for more. This also describes Oramo conducting it, with the BBCSO at the Barbican in May 2017. This Proms performance was more sedate, though good, mainly because the emphasis was on Gershwin.  

And rightly so since Oramo was conducting the UK premiere of a revised edition of An American in Paris which restores its original verve and originality . The piece is so well known from the movie of the same name that we could forget how Gershwin himself would have conceived it.  In the heady days of 1920's Paris it would have been innovative and deliciously subversive. Taxi horns and jazz syncopation ! The risqué world of modernity blowing into the concert hall !  Thus the vigour of this performance where Oramo brought out the audacity and freshness so it shone anew freed from decades of perceived performance practice. It's so vivid that many will prefer An American in Paris in its more neutral Hollywood form. But that does not do Gershwin justice.  This edition (and this performance) restores its true context.  For more about the new edition, by Mark Clague,  please read HERE.  Like George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique (1922/4) it represents a time when Europe and America were truly together and in tune at the forefront of a New Age. Lots more on Antheil on this site, please search. 

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