A remarkable event at longtime avant garde house Roulette tonight, where the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra - one of that city's three major orchestras - arrived to perform Messiaen's From the Canyons to the Stars, led by their music director, veteran British conductor Jeffrey Tate. This two-hour work for piano and orchestra, which is generally regarded as Messiaen's orchestral masterpiece, ranges all over the sonic map, with incredibly dense, difficult passages interspersed with moments of soaring ecstasy. The tight confines of Roulette's shoebox space meant that every nuance and detail could be clearly heard. Special kudos to the young soloist Francesco Tristano, who tackled the enormously demanding piano part with fierce determination and focus.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Israeli artist Daniel Landau's provocative video projections, which replaced the Utah of Messiaen's score with scenes of the Dead Sea and garbage dumps, populated with old men crawling through mud, homeless dwarfs reenacting the Last Supper, and a pregnant woman floating naked in the sea. According to the orchestra's website, the video, which was funded by the German environmental ministry, was intended as "an environmental critique," commemorating Hamburg's designation as the "Green Capital of Europe for 2011."
The fact of the matter is, it made no sense, and was an irritating distraction from Messiaen's music. Apparently, the idea was Tate's, who has long been an advocate of stirring up the standard repertoire with modern productions from the world of art and theater, so that they don't turn into "museum pieces." Which I appreciate. But, that doesn't mean we need to settle for Bad Art instead.
More pice on the photo page.