Beethoven, Messiaen, and Murail

The New York Philharmonic

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Pierre Laurent Aimard

Beethoven, Messiaen, and Murail

Beethoven, Messiaen, and Murail

Recorded April 11, 2013

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Conductor

David Robertson

David Robertson — conductor, artist, thinker, and American musical visionary — occupies some of the most prominent platforms on the international music scene. A highly sought-after podium figure in the worlds of opera, orchestral music, and new music, Mr. Robertson is celebrated worldwide as a champion of contemporary composers, an ingenious and adventurous programmer, and a masterful communicator whose passionate advocacy for the art form is widely recognized.

Currently in his valedictory season as music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and his fifth season as chief conductor and artistic director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, he has held artistic leadership positions at musical institutions including the Orchestre national de Lyon and, as a protégé of Pierre Boulez, the Ensemble InterContemporain. He held the post of principal guest conductor at the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Robertson has been an artist on the Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall, where he has conducted, among others, The Met Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. He appears regularly in Europe with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, Czech Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony and Dresden Staatskapelle orchestras and at the Berlin Festival, Edinburgh Festival, BBC Proms, and Munich’s Musica Viva Festival.

In March 2018 Mr. Robertson returned to The Metropolitan Opera to conduct the premiere of Phelim McDermott’s new production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Since his Met Opera debut in 1996, with Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, he has conducted a wide range of Met projects, including the house premiere of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer (2014), the 2016 revival of Janáček’s Jenůfa, and the premiere production of Nico Muhly’s Two Boys (2013). He has frequent projects at the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet, and the San Francisco and Santa Fe Operas.

During his 13-year tenure with the St. Louis Symphony, Mr. Robertson’s fruitful relationships with artists, including composer John Adams, have yielded numerous recordings, such as City Noir (Nonesuch, 2014), which won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. Mr. Robertson is the recipient of numerous musical awards and is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France.

David Robertson is devoted to supporting young musicians and has worked with students at numerous festivals internationally. In 2014 he led the U.S. tour of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the USA. In the fall of 2018 he will assume the position of director of Conducting Studies, Visiting Distinguished Faculty, at The Juilliard School.

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Piano

Pierre Laurent Aimard by Felix Broede DG

Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs throughout the world each season with major orchestras under conductors including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Christoph von Dohnányi, Gustavo Dudamel, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Peter Eötvös, and Simon Rattle. Artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, he has also created, directed, and performed in residencies at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Berlin’s Philharmonie, Lucerne Festival, Mozarteum Salzburg, Tanglewood Festival, and London’s Southbank Centre. Highlights of Mr. Aimard’s 2012–13 season include solo recitals in London, New York, Chicago, Paris, and Tokyo; concerto appearances with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg; and directing concerts from the keyboard with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Born in Lyon in 1957, Pierre-Laurent Aimard studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Yvonne Loriod and in London with Maria Curcio. In 1973 he won first prize in the Messiaen Competition, and three years later Pierre Boulez appointed him to become the Ensemble Intercontemporain’s first solo pianist. He received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award in spring 2005 and was named “Instrumentalist of the Year” by Musical America in 2007.

Mr. Aimard records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon. His first DG release, a recording of Bach’s Art of Fugue, received the Diapason d’Or and Choc du Monde de la Musique awards, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s classical chart, and topped iTunes’s classical album download chart. He has received ECHO Classik Awards, most recently in 2009, for his recording of solo piano pieces titled Hommage à Messiaen, and he has received Germany’s Schallplattenkritik Honorary Prize and a Grammy Award. Pierre-Laurent Aimard made his New York Philharmonic debut in November–December 2002 performing Janáček’s Capriccio and Richard Strauss’s Burleske in D minor conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi. In his most recent appearance, in December 2007, he performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Stockhausen’s Klavierstueck VIII (a solo encore performed in memory of Stockhausen, who died that week), conducted by Philippe Jordan.

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Les Offrandes oubliées

OLIVIER MESSIAEN (1908–1992)
Les Offrandes oubliées (1930)

From an early age, Olivier Messiaen was a devout Catholic who wanted to "shed light on the theological truths of the Catholic faith" through music and musical symbols. This objective — along with his preoccupation with the sounds of nature, especially birds and their song — dominated virtually all of his creative output. And, like Scriabin, he had the gift of synaesthesia, which enabled him to see colors when he heard pitches. His voice among 20th century composers had a unique, personal vocabulary that ecstatically celebrated God and life; his soundscapes were sensuous and harmonically rich; and his music shimmered with exotic inspirations gained from his avid interest in Eastern music. Les Offrandes oubliées, Messiaen's first published orchestral work, concerns mankind's sinfulness and the possibility of redemption. He provides a prose-poem for the one-movement work: "Arms outstretched, afflicted unto death, you shed your blood on the cross. We have forgotten, sweet Jesus, how you love us. Driven onward by madness and forked tongues, in breathless, uncontrolled, and headlong flight, we have fallen into sin like a bottomless pit. It is here to be found, the unsullied table, the source of charity, the feast of the poor, the well of holy sympathy which is to us the very bread of life and love. We have forgotten, sweet Jesus, how you love us." Les Offrandes oubliées is comprised of three continuous sections, Messiaen explains: "The Cross" (nearly slow, sorrowful, profoundly sad), "a lamentation of the strings, whose sorrowful 'neumes' divide the melody into groups of uneven lengths, broken by deep-grey and mauve sighs"; "Sin" (quick, savage, desperate, breathless), "a kind of 'race towards the abyss' at an almost mechanized speed"; "The Eucharist" (extremely slow, with great compassion and great love) "features the long and slow phrase of the violins, which rises over a carpet of pianissimo chords, with reds, gold, blues (like a distant stained-glass window) to the light of muted solo chords." At the end, this symphonic meditation becomes a wave of sound that seems to hang suspended in a kind of timelessness that points towards eternity.

Piano Concerto

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Symphony No. 2

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Symphony No. 2 (1801–1802)

Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Second Symphony in 1802 at Heiligenstadt, a country village near Vienna and the place that gave its name to the composer's heartbreaking "Heiligenstadt Testament" — an unsent confessional letter that reveals his near-suicidal anguish over his growing deafness. Fortunately for posterity, Beethoven chose life over death in order that he might express through his art all that was in his soul, writing: "It seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt was within me." Despite the backdrop of his personal crisis the composition's mood is upbeat and sunny, with only a few passing clouds. (Berlioz remarked that "this symphony is smiling throughout.") The Symphony No. 2 was premiered in 1803 on a mammoth program that by today's standards had enough material for at least two concerts: the Symphony No. 1, plus additional first performances of the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Piano Concerto No. 3 with Beethoven as conductor and piano soloist. Even though we usually think of the "Eroica" of 1804 as being the musical shot heard round the world, the Second Symphony already carries within it some of the orchestral power, energy, and drive we identify with Beethoven. Bookended by a dramatic slow introduction (à la Haydn or Mozart) and an extended raucous coda played at full speed, there is the second movement Larghetto, described by Berlioz as "a ravishing picture of innocent pleasure ... wholly and serenely happy," and a Scherzo where soft and loud dynamics are traded by the orchestra in lively banter. As you listen, keep in mind Beethoven's words to F.G. Wegeler: "I will seize Fate by the throat. It will not wholly conquer me! Oh, how beautiful it is to live — and live a thousand times over!"
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