I spare no efforts to remind everyone of Messiaen‘s astounding Turangalîla; but an equally monumental (if rather less catchy) later orchestral masterpiece is his Des canyons aux étoiles (1974), which I attended at Sunday’s Prom, hot on the heels of the NYO concert.
Composed “to Glorify God in the Beauties of His Creations; from the colours of the earth and the songs of the birds to the colours of the stars and the Resurrected Ones in Heaven”, it was inspired by the canyons of Utah. It features a vertiginous solo horn part (notably the sixth movement “Interstellar call”) alongside piano cadenzas with Messiaen’s signature birdsong. The mystical intimacy of “The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran” makes a tranquil centrepiece, akin to the enchanted Jardin du sommeil d’amour in Turangalîla.
Again, short of staging it at Bryce Canyon itself, the Royal Albert Hall makes a rather suitable venue. Given the work’s cosmic dimensions, it uses quite modest forces, with percussion prominent—notably xylorimba and glockenspiel, aeoliphone wind machine and geophone sand machine, with impressive solos from Nicolas Hodges (piano) and Martin Owen (horn). Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra really know their way around this kind of music. Indeed, the orchestra did the first UK performance under Boulez in 1975.
Here’s a 2002 recording conducted by Myung-Whun Chung:
And here are the titles in English:
What is written in the stars
The white-browed robin-chat
Cedar Breaks and the gift of awe
Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks
The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran
The wood thrush
Omao, leiothrix, ‘elepaio, shama
Zion Park and the celestial city