Conductor: Gustavo Dudamel
Cynthia Miller: Ondes Martenot
Jean-Yves Thibaudet: Piano
After making the heart-breaking but fundamentally right decision of forgoing Tristan und Isolde on Monday evening for a later date due to an intermittent cough, I at least could take heart in knowing that at the end of the week I would attend another rendition of Olivier Messiaen's stunning Turangalîla-symphonie, a monumental 20th century masterpiece that I had become acquainted with about six months earlier in a memorable performance by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Although I really could not imagine a more thrilling experience of it than that first one, the opportunity to live through it again with whiz kid Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, who were in town to open Carnegie Hall's new season with three concerts, was just too good to pass, especially now that I had become a healthy and inconspicuous audience member again.
Besides, apparently the Turangalîla’s irresistible pull was felt far and wide because, lo and behold, the concert was actually sold out. Who said that challenging contemporary music was not popular?
Back in March, my first foray into the Turangalîla was as eye-opening as overwhelming. Although on Saturday I was obviously more prepared for my second round, I was still bracing myself for the by now expected impact of this spectacularly unique work, in which have been thrown in hints of Tristan und Isolde’s lush Romanticism (At least I got a whiff of it!), Edgar Poe-inspired macabre images, exotic rhythms from India, Africa and Indonesia and, more predictably but no less brilliantly, Messiaen’s signature bird songs and mystic Catholicism.
The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra has come a very long way from its days of being the much praised but still scrawny youth orchestra issued from El Sistema, Venezuela's national music education program. Nowadays they have truly become a musical force to be reckoned with on the international scene, and on Saturday night they definitely proved that they could technically do pretty much anything a more long-established orchestra could, and with plenty of fervor and heart too.
If the orchestra showed proficient skills and boundless enthusiasm, the two soloists were definitely up to their daunting tasks as well. Ever-dashing Frenchman Jean-Yves Thibaudet assuredly gave a blazing account of the virtuosic piano parts, all outstanding dexterity and head-on boldness, while ondes Martenot extraordinaire Cynthia Miller handled the rarely heard instrument with equally remarkable savoir-faire.
Throughout this formidable ode to love in all its vertiginous joys and dreaded pitfalls, general messiness and pointed extremes, maestro Dudamel kept a firm grip on his eager musicians, letting the brash dissonances powerfully resonate and the gorgeously lyrical passages beautifully soar. The unusual 10-movement structure made for a constantly surprising but somehow consistent journey, and the exhilarating wild ride ended on a ecstatically grand finale, reasserting the comforting notion that love does conquer all.