Once you have heard the sensuous, nebulous sound of the ondes martenot, you'll be hooked. Though at first glance it resembles a parlor organ, the ondes martenot is actually is an early electronic instrument, a cousin of the modern-day synthesizer, beloved by musicians from Edgar Varse to Radiohead.
So what is this revered instrument doing on Carnegie Hall's polished Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage? It's starring in a "love song" as Olivier Messiaen called his TurangalêÎla-symphonie, in a February 15 Discovery Concert with David Robertson and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. In TurangalêÎla-symphonie, audiences will hear the ondes martenot - as the lover's heavenly voice - shimmering above a riot of orchestral color and softly humming the work's gentle theme along with the strings.
The symphony revels in the infinite variety of love, from the Dionysian to the Apollonian, the profane to the spiritual, from the frankly erotic to the ethereal. As part of the Discovery Concert multimedia event, the always-enlightening Robertson will guide audiences through the layered meanings of this multifaceted piece. Images projected on a screen above the stage will be used by Robertson, for example, to compare "Garden of the Sleep of Love," the sixth movement of the TurangalêÎla-symphonie, with the tranquility of a pristine Japanese rock garden.
"When the whole piece is played," Robertson explains, "the audience will have a better sense of context, of how things fit together, of where the symphony was in the cultural climate - as well as the particular things that make Messiaen's personality so marvelous and compelling."