Perhaps not everyone is aware that this year is the centenary of the birth of the great French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). Festivities marking the occasion have been distressingly rare. This is difficult to understand given the wealth of fabulous possibilities that suggest themselves: zoos around the world could hold concerts in their tropical bird exhibits; the Quatuor pour la fin du temps could be performed in mock concentration camps, which would have the benefit of being both entertaining and educational; a full complement of orchestral musicians could be suspended beneath military helicopters and flown through the Grand Canyon while playing Des canyons aux étoiles… — I’m sure you can think of your own examples.
As for me and my house, we (well, ok, technically only me) have been listening through Warner Classics’ enormous Messiaen Edition, but this has seemed somehow insufficient. Owing to a disastrous oversight, I missed attending our local symphony’s performance of the mighty Turangalîla-Symphonie back in April, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to make amends.
Imagine my surprise, delight, and frustration to discover that in December the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, under their new musical director Kent Nagano, will be performing a concert version of Messiaen’s glorious masterpiece Saint François d’Assise. (I have written about this opera in this space before.) Nagano knew Messiaen well, conducted the premiere of Saint François, and has presided over the best recording of the work, and I’m sure it will be a marvellous concert. The downside? I’m not so bothered to see that the concert lasts six hours — one can’t have too much of a good thing, right? But the concert is in Montreal, which is about a six hour drive from here. If I went I’d have to find some overnight lodgings, which gets expensive. Oh dear, oh dear. What am I to do?