Tomorrow (Aug 5): Alan Gilbert conducts Messaien’s “Canyons” on new recording

1st August 2016 / Download this Article

Last summer, as Artist-in-Residence of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Alan Gilbert led an all-star orchestra of 44 superlative musicians – his frequent collaborator Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan among them – in an account of Olivier Messiaen’s monumental and otherworldly twelve-movement, 90-minute orchestral masterpiece, Des canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the Stars…). Marking a major milestone in the festival’s history, the performance – featuring the largest ensemble ever gathered there for a single work – was recorded live for release tomorrow(Friday, August 5) on the Entertainment One Music label. Click here to hear an excerpt from the new recording.

Marc Neikrug, the festival’s artistic director, captures the significance of the live performance and recording:

“This monumental work falls into a niche that is very difficult to program. The forces it demands are too small for the average symphony concert, but way too large for most chamber music concerts. When it is programmed by symphonies, the performers are, of course, the normal roster of the orchestra. For our presentation I wanted to assemble the utopian ensemble, hand-picked over a year, from the best possible players for each and every instrument. I also ensured that we provided an unusual and abundant amount of rehearsal time. And I entrusted this epic endeavor in the festival’s history to Alan Gilbert with the confidence that he would provide an illuminating and transcendent performance. It’s captured here in all its glory.”

Commissioned by art patron Alice Tully for the U.S. bicentennial and premiered at Lincoln Center in 1974, Canyons celebrates the awe-inspiring beauty of the great canyons of southwest Utah, which include Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park. Encompassing a characteristically Messiaenic mix of birdsong, modernist experimentalism, and religious mysticism, the work expresses the composer’s faith in the power of nature to communicate the very essence of God. Messiaen drew inspiration from an unlikely source: photos of Bryce Canyon and its bright red rocks, which he happened upon in the picture book Wonders of the World. Then in spring 1973 he and his wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod, toured southern Utah and experienced firsthand the setting’s majesty and the myriad sounds of the canyon and desert landscapes. As the composer explained,

“Having left the canyons to climb to the stars, I had only to keep going in the same direction to raise myself up to God. So my work is at once geological, ornithological, astronomical, and theological. Despite the importance of color and birds, it’s above all a religious work of praise and contemplation.”

On the new recording, Alan Gilbert, who launches his eighth and final season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic next month, conducts an orchestra that includes many of his close musical friends and collaborators. In a work requiring staggering virtuosity from all players, Inon Barnatan plays the notoriously challenging piano part, including the fourth and ninth movements (Le cossyphe d’Heuglin “The white-browed robin-chat” and Le moqueur polyglotte “The mockingbird”), both of which are scored for solo piano. The Israeli pianist has worked with Gilbert on numerous projects throughout his career, and is currently serving a three-year residency as the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural Artist-in-Association. He and the conductor look forward to reuniting in the coming season to continue recording Beethoven’s Five Piano Concertos with London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

The new album also showcases Philip Myers, renowned Principal Horn of the New York Philharmonic, in the haunting sixth movement (Appel interstellaire“Interstellar Call”), for solo horn. Likewise, Daniel Druckman, who holds a New York Philharmonic percussion chair, and Jeffrey Milarsky, founding music director of AXIOM, are featured prominently throughout the nine remaining movements, on xylorimba and glockenspiel respectively. A complete list of the orchestral musicians follows below.

Alan Gilbert observes, “Honestly it’s hard to imagine a more stellar group of musicians coming together to play this fiendishly difficult work. Many performances of Messiaen’s music stop at the level of mere precision. What these musicians brought to the music was an unusual warmth and depth of feeling. This recording is one of my proudest achievements.”

Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992)
Des canyons aux étoiles…
 (“From the canyons to the stars…”)

Label: Entertainment One Music
Release date: Friday, August 5
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Inon Barnatan, piano
Daniel Druckman, xylorimba
Jeffrey Milarsky, glockenspiel
Philip Myers, horn I

Part 1:
1. Le désert (“The desert”)
2. Les orioles (“The orioles”)
3. Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles (“What is written in the stars”)
4. Le cossyphe d’Heuglin (“The white-browed robin-chat”)
5. Cedar Breaks et le don de crainte (“Cedar Breaks and the gift of awe”)

Part 2:
6. Appel interstellaire (“Interstellar call”)
7. Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange (“Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks”)

Part 3: 8. Les ressucités et le chant de l’étoile Aldebaran (“The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran”)
9. Le moqueur polyglotte (“The mockingbird”)
10. La grive des bois (“The wood thrush”)
11. Omao, leiothrix, elepaio, shama (“Omao, leiothrix, ?elepaio, shama”)
12. Zion Park et la cité céleste (“Zion Park and the celestial city”)

Orchestra: Jennifer Gilbert, violin I
Harvey De Souza, violin II
Kathleen Brauer, violin III
Daniel Phillips, violin IV
Joel Link, violin V
Bryan Lee, violin VI
Kimberly Fredenburgh, viola I
Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola II
L. P. How, viola III
Kajsa William-Olsson, cello I
Felix Fan, cello II
Camden Shaw, cello III
Kristen Bruya, double bass
Tara Helen O’Connor, piccolo
Joshua Smith, flute I
John McMurtery, flute II
Bart Feller, alto flute
Liang Wang, oboe I
Robert Ingliss, oboe II
James Button, English horn
Katherine Kohler, E-flat clarinet
Michael Rusinek, clarinet I
Todd Levy, clarinet II
Mark Dubac, bass clarinet
Nancy Goeres, bassoon I
Theodore Soluri, bassoon II
Toni Lipton, contrabassoon
Leelanee Sterrett, horn II
Julie Landsman, horn III
Ethan Bensdorf, D trumpet
Christopher Stingle, C trumpet I
Charley Lea, C trumpet II
Peter Ellefson, trombone I
Mark Fisher, trombone II
Andrew Chappell, bass trombone
Robert Klieger, percussion I
Jeffrey Cornelius, percussion II
Joseph Ferraro, percussion III
Angela Gabriel, percussion IV
Gregg Koyle, percussion V

Recorded August, 2015 at The Lensic, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Produced by Susan Napodano DelGiorno
Engineered by Matthew Snyder