Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Messiaen and Die Berliner Luft

Gorgeous weather this morning, and after a brisk walk, I bury myself in my work.

The scores on the desk to study for next season: Bernstein's Peter Pan and West Side Story, Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) and Firebird (L'Oiseau de feu), Mahler 5th symphony. The piano concertos to play-Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, Grieg A minor, Mozart A major K. 488. And that's only part of the repertoire.
3 CDs to prepare for and record. And some solo recitals.

I look out of my studio windows just above the treetops. The sky has suddenly become dark as rainclouds summon up yet another storm. I do like summer storms. The rain purifies the air, releasing the fragrances of the earth.

Unknown to many, the city of Berlin actually sits on top of a massive water table. The air in this metropolis is unusually clean and fresh for a large city. That is because the earth is constantly being saturated with water from underneath. The air is always being cleansed and purified. That is why there is the old song, "Berliner Luft" (Berlin Air).

Das ist die Berliner Luft Luft Luft,
so mit ihrem holden Duft Duft Duft,
wo nur selten was verpufft pufft pufft......

Whenever I arrive back in Berlin and step out of the airport terminal, I take a deep breath. The air is so different and fresh. Die Berliner Luft.

Craig Urquhart and I go to a concert last night of the Konzerthausorchester performed in Berlin's beautiful Schinkel-designed Konzerthaus, (see photo above). The orchestra is the reconstituted Berlin Symphony Orchestra (Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester). The program, of which some works are unfamiliar to me, was highly interesting. Stravinsky's Greeting Prelude, Berlioz Le Corsaire overture, Messiaen's Réveil des oiseaux, Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu. And those are just the works on the first half which was very long due to the moderator who gave long winded explanations between each piece of music.

I have loved Messiaen's music ever since I was a little boy entranced by the organ. But the Réveil des oiseaux, consisting mostly of the composer's transcriptions of birdsong, struck me the same way as his Canyons aux étoiles which I heard performed with orchestra featuring Messiaen's wife, the great pianist Yvonne Loriod, as soloist in Denver in 1998-superb music and ideas but way too repetitive and overly long. You are completely claimed by the opening 15 minutes only to be wandering for the next 30 or so through an endless chain of dominant seventh chords. Loriod's breathtaking performance and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's ravishing playing were magnificent, but the sheer length and repetition of the work were tiresome. The piece does convey a great musical picture of the work's inspiration, Utah's Brice Canyon, but one can say the same thing in fewer paragraphs to greater effect.

And yet almost the rest of Messiaen's music leaves me completely transfixed. His sound world is a wonderful place to be where the colors and hues are infinite.

The Zimmermann work hits us similarly due its length. Though not as cerebral as the Messiaen, Zimmermann quotes entire portions of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and Berlioz' March to the Gallows from the Symphonie Fantastique whenever he can't seem to find a melody on his own. It cheapens what could have stood as a fine work.

We cut out to the new 5-star Hotel Roma for martinis before going down the street for a magnificent Italian dinner.

© Alexander Frey, 2007