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People Are Talking: UMS presents The Hamburg Symphony Orchestra: From the Canyons to the Stars

Posted: 1/29/12 -- 12:00 am

82

avatar by Mary Roeder

Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, January 29, 4PM at Hill Auditorium.

Tell us what you thought! This is the place to comment on the performance and talk to other people about what you saw and heard. Don’t forget to click the option to be notified when new comments are posted.

Mary Roeder works in UMS Education & Community Engagement. Additionally, she is awesome.

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  • avatar

    The video was distracting. Compositions by Messiaen should not fall victim to trendy multi-media.

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    • avatar

      As someone who does not usually go to Western classical music concerts (I am from a different culture and was never exposed to Western music when growing up, but am curious about it), I found the video very useful. It actually kept me from getting distracted, and made me curious about Messiaen and interested in finding out more about him. Had it not been for the video as an attraction, I would not have gone to the concert.

      Purists may complain all they will about “trendy multi-media”, but audiences for purist Western classical music are declining. To build new audiences, it is necessary to get people in at the door.

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      • avatar

        Uh, you could get people at the door by showing porn, or selling crack cocaine. The point of a western classical concert is to get them there for western classical music…

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        • avatar

          The two examples you gave would be contrary to the university’s mission (and illegal). So, the university could never allow that. (The UMS is affiliated with the university — correct?)

          Showing an art video, on the other hand, isn’t contrary to the university’s mission. So, it’s great as a perfectly acceptable, legal, and ethical tool to get people in at the door.

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    • avatar

      What happens when renegades clash? That’s assuming Daniel Landau, creator of the video triptych paired with Messaien’s From the Canyon to the Stars at Sunday’s performance by the Hamburg Symphony, is a renegade. If you define the term as an “outlaw” or “rebel,” one who rejects allegiance, I suppose he might count. But if you take the broader definition UMS seems to be striving for in this 10-week series—change-agent, visionary, artist-to-be-reckoned-with—I think not.
      I have yet to meet an audience member who wasn’t infuriated by the concert. As we were pulling on our coats at the end of the performance, the older man who’d been sitting next to me muttered, “That’s one DVD I’m not going to rush out and buy.”
      The contrast with last week’s Einstein could scarcely have been more pronounced: instead of losing myself in the exhilarations of abstraction, I battled distraction, looked down at my lap, closed my eyes, anything to shut out Landau’s incomprehensible take on Messiaen’s mystical music. (Maybe if I’d seen the video as a stand-alone piece I’d have been more forgiving. Maybe. Was the Hamburg Symphony trying to shove social action down our throats, by any means? What did the musicians think of the inanities parading across the video screens above them?) With Einstein I was dimly aware of time passing but blissfully unaware of how quickly or slowly it was moving. Here I was excruciatingly cognizant. This is no slur against Messiaen, whose music, difficult and jarring though it was/is, was also deeply inviting. I wanted to give in to its strange and surprising effects, its tantalizing evocations of wind and birds and canyons and water, its timelessness. But Landau’s insistently narrative video kept getting in the way. I’d never quite realized before how powerfully narrative constrains our experience of time. Where Messiaen—and the stellar performers from Hamburg—seemed to want to blast open time and space, Landau kept yanking us back into his tawdry little story. The last thing I wanted was chronology, the clock ticking.
      Impossible, at Sunday’s performance, to enter Messiaen’s world. I wanted to imagine his birds, wanted to dig below my own musical prejudices and preferences, gnaw through the surface difficulty of his score and hear the earth, which is anything but consonant. Landau put a stop to that. So we had a butting of renegades: the video maverick clanging heads with the symphonic change-agent, and the result was cacophany.

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      • avatar

        Excellently put. I too saw Einstein last weekend and thanks to the film accompaniment, this performance seemed to drag in comparison despite being much shorter.

        A narrative film like Landau’s begs for a soundtrack to accompany it, whereas the objective in this case should really have been for the film to take a backseat to the music. At times the film elicited giggles from the audience, which was distracting and kept me from being able to fully immerse myself in the music.

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  • avatar

    The video potentially could have added to the music, but I think in this case it was disconnected. I felt that the themes of the video were unrelated to the programmatic nature of the music, the ideas did not form a cohesive whole. So in short, the music was wonderful and the video was extraneous and just weird.

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  • avatar

    Simply put, Messiaen’s work is incredible, and the Hamburg Symphony performed it exquisitely; however, the video was grotesque and irrelevant. I am not saying that the film is not art, nor that it was not well filmed, merely that it polluted the work of Messiaen.

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    • avatar

      I agree…we found the film to be a total turnoff which often was so “in your face” that one forgot to listen to the music. We did not expect that, having read previews that made it sound as though the film would be showing our national parks, as well as the Dead Sea and other European vistas. Considering the musical piece was commissioned as a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Independence of the United States, the film seems almost like a desecration of that event.

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    • I agree with you, Cait. The music was brilliantly performed and would have done fine on it’s own.

      Having said that, I like the idea of accompanying a great musical piece with a film, just not this film, and not for this piece. “Canyons” already has such a colorful and potent assortment of ideas and images behind it’s creation, that to add an entirely new and unrelated film felt forced and unnecessary.

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  • I definitely agree with the previous comments. While I liked the idea of having a three-panel video visual during the performance, I felt that the video could have contributed more to the overall piece – it needed to be tied in better. However, the music was great, props to the Hamburg Symphony.

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  • avatar

    I felt very sorry for the orchestra and especially the composer. I would have loved this with pictures of the sections as titled by the composer. The video here was awful and ruined the performance totally.

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  • avatar

    First of all, thank you to UMS for bringing this adventurous program to Hill. I am so grateful that such unusual programing makes it into our neck of the woods. The idea of presenting a performance of this fascinating work with visual images was a clever one.

    The music was transfixing. I still find Messiaen’s musical world challenging, but there is an aura around the music that I find very appealing. I thought the Hamburgers did a fine job with the piece, and pianist Francesco Tristano was a revelation. His playing was precise, rythmically perfect, and powerful. I can’t think of a better work than this to introduce us to this extrordinarily promising young artist. And, how nice to see and hear Jeffrey Tate, one of the world’s most elegant conductors.

    Now, to the trash. Ah yes, the video accompanying the music wasn’t just about trash; it was trash itself. It was tired, disjointed, boring, cliched, and vapid. It did nothing for the music; indeed, as some writers above have already stated, it took away from the wonderful music. Had a high school video class teacher assigned this project to his sophomores over the weekend, I might have expected the video we saw today as the product of one of the more talented students – a quick little piece of filmmaking accomplished over a couple of days. But to have a piece of junk like we saw attached to a world tour is mindboggling. I do not understand why museums, performing arts organizations, and the like, hold “video artists” to so much lower standards than other artists. If the video we saw were a piece of music, it would never get performed. If it were a painting, it would never get hung.

    In a sensible world, a video artist would have been chosen to film the very landscape that inspired Messiaen. We could have had a visual equivalent to the music we were hearing. But no, that would be too dull for the Eurotrash set. So, instead, we get a mishmash of simplistic – that’s right, just as stated earlier – trash.

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  • avatar

    I agree that the video was complete trash. No connection at all to the wonderful performane.

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  • avatar

    It was awful! I felt trapped and was unable to escape the dreadful performance. It was a waste of talent, money and time.

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  • avatar

    Pianist was fabulous. The music was awesome. However, my companion closed his eyes so as not to be distracted by video. It was sort of like watching a silent horror/surrealist/abstract expressionist movie, leaving me in constant state of dread and foreboding. Certainly did not go well with the music. Perhaps a new genre has been created: “distract expressionism?”

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  • avatar

    The pianist Francesco Tristano was phenomenal. What impressed me about his performance was his touch and his range of dynamic contrast. He seemed to capture the essence of Messiaen’s passion for bird sounds.

    Some of Daniel Landau’s visual elements were intriguing, in particular the burning car scene. Also, I actually thought that some of the elements were relevant. However, the visual elements essentially took away from the music. Ultimately, I found Landau’s visual elements to be incoherent.

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  • avatar

    We agree with Melody Rowe. What a waste of a great opportunity to hear the Hamburg play some music.

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  • On one hand, I wish to express my deep appreciation to UMS for bringing this extraordinary work to the Hill Auditorium stage. I know the piece well and was eagerly anticipating this performance.

    Unfortunately, as skilled as the Hamburg Orchestra is, for me and countless others in the audience tonight, the performance was ruined by the utterly foolish “film” that was shown with it.

    The more I watched, the more I became convinced that the filmmaker had bought into the preposterous theory being advanced by some that Messiaen was anti-semitic, and as an Israeli, this film was his act of revenge on Messiaen. He clearly strove to fight the music and everything the composer sought to express in it, to make the music seem ugly by combining it with incongruously ugly imagery. I can find no other explanation for such a travesty, other than perhaps sheer, oblivious stupidity.

    The program booklet’s commentary on the music conspicuously omitted any reference to Messiaen’s own detailed, thoughtful and thought-provoking commentaries. All specific religious references disappeared, which I’ll assume was an attempt to appeal to predominantly non-religious current European audiences that the Hamburg orchestra plays to at home. Yet most all the composer’s references to the specific natural scenes that so vividly inspired the music were inexplicably omitted as well. None of these omissions served to enhance the listeners’ appreciation of the music, rather only put the audience at a disadvantage in every way, by distancing them from the composer’s expressive intent.

    I have heard the work performed live before (with the composer’s widow Yvonne Loriod as solo pianist), mercifully without an accompanying film. The music is so rich and colorful and the composer’s commentary so striking that the performance lacked nothing, proving the music to be a powerful and fully-satisfying stimulus to the listener’s imagination. The idea that a video is needed to “sell” such a performance is an insult to the audience’s intelligence.

    Even so, an _appropriate_ video could have enhanced the film, e.g. showing scenes from Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, starry skies, and the many particular species of birds whose songs Messiaen so carefully and lovingly transcribed (no, not not-singing scavengers in garbage dumps). The video that was presented, however, was beyond inappropriate: it _assassinated_ the musical experience.

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    • PS: My 11-year-old daughter attended the concert with me. She said that she enjoyed the music, but said several times how “stupid” the film was. When I explained to her that the idea of adding the film seems to have been to make it easier for an audience to hear such a long and complex piece of music, she just rolled her eyes…!

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    • PPS: Just for the record, I can fully appreciate surrealist film (I’m a fan of Bunuel/Dali’s “Un Chien Anadlou”). And as to films in non-narrative imagery, I quite enjoyed “Koyaanisqatsi.” But tonight’s oddity was painfully out-of-place with Messiaen’s music! Thus I definitely will AVOID all work by Daniel Landau in future, and for that matter, also the Hamburg Symphony and their director Jeffrey Tate because of their extraordinary lack of artistic judgment in this project.

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  • avatar

    There’s a certain irony when the program notes say that the music was partly inspired by the natural beauty of America….and then the film maker’s take on it yields a story of a couple people running around wearing giant animal heads, destroying a car, and being mesmerized by upholstery batting in a landfill.

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  • avatar

    I agree with the many above comments that the video ruined the music – I often closed my eyes so I could focus more on the music without the video distraction. The pianist was indeed brilliant!! But I wish that the UMS advertising was more appropriate to the event. UMS said: “a multi-sensory experience celebrating the beauty of the earth and our unaltered landscapes”. I expected to see a beautiful flow of photos from our natural parks and natural wonders (a la National Geographic!) to go along with the music, rather than the horrible film shown.

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    • If I had to guess I’d say that UMS hadn’t seen the film beforehand, and that they were expecting more or less what the audience was – that is, canyons and stars. Either way, it was quite offensive. I honestly had no idea what had just happened and what I was supposed to have taken from that when I left Hill tonight, but then I saw Tim Tikker’s comment above reposted on Facebook and matters became quite clear.

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  • avatar

    I agree with most of the comments above. The video ruined the experience. Anyway, I would like to read some arguments in favor of the video.

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  • avatar

    Like many others, I expected the film to reflect the beauty that inspired the composer. I found it TOTALLY dissonant

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  • avatar

    I found myself going back and forth between the music and the video. I found each was artful and mesmerizing in its own way, but when the two occurred simultaneously, each distracted me from the other. The Symphony gave a tremendous performance nonetheless- certainly an experience!

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  • avatar

    I’m with everyone above. Had to keep my eyes closed. This is such extraordinarily rich music that visual imagery can only diminish it – and this stuff was an embarrassment. Messiaen was first and last a church musician, something like more than half a century on the bench at Sainte Trinite, and to separate his work from his faith (as the program notes seemed to do by leaving out the specific biblical referents of each movement) is to betray an extraordinary ignorance of this musician. My reaction to the film was not unlike my reaction to those various ads over the years that use something like the Mozart or the Verdi Requiems to sell cars. To use M’s music as a sound track for anything would be diminishing; to use it for this interminable stretch of cliches (bunnies! tigers! slow-motion eating! acres of trash!) was a travesty. And particularly, given what a terrific performance this was! The pianist was extraordinary, the percussionists amazing, the first horn truly out of this world. So, as long as I kept my eyes closed, I was in heaven. Quite the opposite when otherwise…

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  • avatar

    Though I am not always opposed to videos accompanying music, I have to agree with the comments above. I think that the video could made its point in a less eerie, disruptive and confusing way. There are numerous appropriate artistic ways to express the harm mankind causes nature. None of them include midgets, dead pregnant women, animal heads, etc.

    As a music major, I get asked everyday, “What did the composer want?” With this question in mind, I asked myself tonight, “Would Messiaen approve?” I believe he would have approved of the idea of a film, but not of it’s execution. I think it’s important to keep music applicable to the everyday listener by adding modern day realities. Unfortunately, in this case, the film maker created something that was so disruptive that I almost think he did it for shock factor instead of its original purpose.

    That being said, I am glad that UMS is bringing more controversial performances to Ann Arbor. I thought the piece was extraordinary and the musicians were phenomenal. I was especially impressed by the pianist and principal horn. Well done, Hamburg!

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  • I think that the video was distracting. Instead to assisting to a concert supported by audiovisual material, I felt like I was watching a “movie” with music alive. Congrats anyway to the musicians!!!

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  • avatar

    Indeed, the pianist was extraordinary! But kudos also need to go to the extremely able horn soloist and to a percussion section (mallets in particular) that was called on for a lot and delivered nicely! I have to agree with the numerous comments above to the effect that, for me, the visuals and the music didn’t “match.”

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  • avatar

    Having visited the beautiful parks that Messiaen visited, and which inspired his music, I was looking forward to some connection between his music and what he way. Alas, I think the video detracted from the overall experience which could have been a lot more inspiring if some scenes of the West he visited were included. One can see trash dumps anywhere. The only part of the film I enjoyed was the time lapse showing the car being basically crushed. That took some time to get right!

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  • avatar

    Riding down in the elevator, I heard someone ask: “Did you enjoy it?” Her friend’s answer came back: “Me neither.” I intruded tactlessly: “What makes you think it SHOULD be enjoyable?”

    When we look at great art, do we insist on enjoying it? Music is written for all sorts of reasons and purposes.

    As I hear it, this piece is expressive of moods and feeling states evoked by the crumbling defenses of Nature against the inroads of Man. We hear awe at the wildness of Western landscapes and the stomping and grinding of man’s machines as they crush all. The music is challenging to the ear as befits this struggle. No wonder we saw people leaving during the performance.

    Is the video irrelevant trash? Not to me in this case. Yes, art should not be exploited for political purposes. I found that in this work music and film were compatible. I found neither distracting from the other. Certainly this film was made at a time of great public concern with the fate of Nature — more active concern than at the time when the music was written. But reinterpretations are, for better or worse, very common today, both here and in Europe. I’d say the film arguably put the music in a plausible context. Which is why I should enlighten Timothy Tikker that a reinterpretation by a later film maker of a an earlier composer’s work — even if he finds it wrong-headed and even if the film maker is a Jew and the composer an anti-Semite — is not necessarily an act of revenge. (“Stupidity,” he writes, is the ONLY other possible explanation he can think of!) I’d be happy if he passed this news on to the “countless” others who allegedly share his appalling bigotry.

    I do have questions: 1) Was this theme of man against nature Messiaen’s (probably not) or is it Landau’s (or just mine)? 2) Did Messiaen anticipate any multi-media presentation? I ask because I thought the visual material was very well done and evocative (even though a bit repetitive and obvious at times. Clichéd it is not. If you prefer a film with scenes of the great parks of the West, then please don’t think that this would be highly original. National Geographic has scooped you.) Which means that if Messiaen had the theme in mind, but not the visual reinforcement, then I wonder how effective the music would be by itself in expressing it.

    And two suggestions: 1) Listeners would do well to attune their ears to Messiaen’s rhythms, sonorities, and harmonies before they witness this work, (e.g., by listening to the Turangalila Symphony) to feel somewhat familiar with these cadences. 2) I wonder whether UMS has ever considered organizing post-concert sessions with its Education department. I would have enjoyed — yes, enjoyed — getting clarification of some things and hearing how people felt and what they thought. I bet I’m not the only one. Now that weeknight concerts start at 7:30 (a splendid idea) an optional session of this sort would provide some closure of the experience for those people who want it. Naturally, not every concert needs this to the same degree. (Einstein would have benefited.) Such an institution will make concert going more satisfying for many in a way that pre-concert talks cannot.

    As is true so often, UMS gave us a most valuable experience.

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    • Hi MusicLover!
      I just wanted to jump in and let you know that with this winter’s Renegade events, a great opportunity through our department of Education and Community Engagement accompanies all of these performances in the form of UMS Night School! UMS Night School is held at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch on Monday evenings over the next few weeks. On Monday, February 6 at 7pm, we’ll be discussing the Einstein and Hamburg Symphony performances, as well as talking about upcoming performances by Random Dance and Tallis Scholars. It’s free and no advance registration is required so please join us–we’d love to have your voice in the discussion of these performances! More info is here–check it out for the dates of each meeting (Night School is not meeting tomorrow, 1/30): http://ums.org/s_education_community/public_programs.asp
      -Liz Stover, UMS

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    • avatar

      I’m sure your fellow elevator riders and T. Tikker are now properly “enlightened” by you. What makes you think others SHOULD sit around for two hours for something UNenjoyable? I am sure that there is an original and beautiful way to film the West. To think otherwise would be seriously underestimating the talent and craft of contemporary filmmakers. Landau might be such a filmmaker. But his ideas were not well conceived (thus the over-reliance on cliches), and I’m sorry that he misfired.

      My hats off to UMS and the musicians, though. It’s always important to take risks.

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    • avatar

      Music Lover, your condescending dismissal of my opinion is completely out of line. I am a scholar of Messiaen’s music, having performed most of his organ works, having carefully researched all his music, his writings on same, and having translated two of his lectures for publication by Alphonse Leduc of Paris (also the publisher of the score of Canyons). I have published a number of articles of my own on these topics. I know Des Canyons aux Etoiles intimately, owning the first LP recording, having heard another full live performance and a radio broadcast of yet another, and owning the full conductor’s score of the work and having studied it and its program notes repeatedly. Messiaen called himself “a composer of joy.” Environmental degradation was the farthest thing from his mind when he wrote Canyons. Rather, he sought to celebrate the beauty of nature and the presence of God in his creation. Landau’s film was _by no means_ an “interpretation” of this music; it was simply superimposed onto it with no regard for the music’s content or intent. “Interpretation” is a much-abused term in the arts these days, too often used to justify treating a work as a tabula rasa with no possible meaning on its own, existing only to have “meaning” imposed onto it by the “interpreter.” It’s clear from the scanty references in the UMS program booklet to Messiaen’s own commentaries on this work that the Berlin orchestra management felt that Messiaen’s religious references would be hard to sell to their audiences — per capita regular church attendance is c. 10% in western Europe, vs. c. 50% in the USA. So they simply chose to hide Messiaen’s commentaries and preferred to present incongruities superimposed onto the music. As a music performer and composer myself, I can never support such foolishness. My own approach to interpretation demands that I seek to understand a composer’s intentions, to understand them in context, and to express them with the fullest possible meaning. This in no way excludes artistry or creativity from performance: rather, it provides an ideal framework for them, if one is to reveal the music in its full depth and beauty.

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  • The performance was excellent. It was colorful and convincing. Messian’s music is so interesting. That was the positive point of the performance today. I am not all to enthusiastic about the video, in fact: I did not like it. It did not support the music in my opinion. It actually draw my attention away from the music and disturbed me while listening. The best moments for me were as I had my eyes closed. The idea of Landau to make a counterpoint to the music did not work for me.

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  • avatar

    From the preface to the score of Des Canyons aux étoiles, Messiaen states, “Bryce Canyon is the greatest marvel of Utah. It is a gigantic amphitheater formed of red, orange and violet rocks, in fantastic shapes: castles, square turrets, rounded towers, natural windows, bridges, statues, columns, while town and the occasional black bottomless pit. From above, we may gaze in wonder at this spectacular forest of petrified sand and stone…or, if we descend to the heart of the gorge, we may wander through its magical architecture.”

    I don’t think the film addressed any of the above.

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  • I have a very special relationship with Messiaen’s music, and this was my first chance to see From the Canyons to the Star live. I’ve been a huge fan of the piece since I discovered it a few years ago. To me, the music is about spirituality. It’s about finding God in the earth and nature and all its bounty. And the performance today was spectacular. It was a divine exploration into the mind of someone alone in the greatness of the Utah canyons.
    The film didn’t really work for me, to be honest. It had too much power to change what the music was saying. And the music had so much to say. That being said, I think it was a well made film, with great symbolic content. I would love to see it in perhaps a museum or a theater. But when paired with one of my favorite piece by one of my favorite composers, it fell short for me. But I suppose it is important to remember the beauty of the performance offered by the Hamburg Symphony and the wonder that is the music.

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    • avatar

      “It had too much power to change what the music was saying. And the music had so much to say.”

      What a nice summation of some of the feelings expressed so far on this thread, Corey! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Mary, UMS

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  • avatar

    As I see it, there are two perfectly reasonable reactions to the film. (By the way, let us remember that it is not Landau, but the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, who is asking us to accept this film. They are the ones who commissioned it and are presenting it to us as part of their package because it makes sense to them. This opens the possibility of inquiring what they, rather than Landau, might have had in mind.) So now to the two plausible reactions:

    One, we can say that this music needs no video. It is sufficient unto itself. Any video is too much.

    Two, we can say, sure, a good video would be welcome but this is a rotten video because it makes no sense to me and falls flat in every other way. Makes no sense? Maybe yes, maybe no. Everyone can play at this game. But now suppose it does make sense to you. You can try to show others what you see, and they can accept or reject what you say. I tried to make sense of it consistent with my overall interpretation of this work as expressing feelings evoked by the human infiltration and destruction of the Great Western Landscapes – not a new thought, but hardly a trashy idea or a cliché. So I saw the humans with bear, rabbit, and tiger heads as symbols of the Disney-fication and distortion of Nature that is one symptom of destruction comparable to the wildlife preserves we create to atone and compensate for and mask what we do to nature. The cuteness prettifies the general devastation. Within this theme the figures need, therefore, not be seen as clichés of cuteness. There is more coherence here than between Verdi’s Requiem and the selling of cars.

    I could go on but there is no need. I just wanted to illustrate a certain approach and attitude toward an artist’s interpretation of someone else’s work of art. (Consider: What sense can we make of Dali’s putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa? One can dismiss it as trash. But one can also look deeper.)

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    • avatar

      Liked the music, disliked the film. Glad to hear that at least one person liked it, as I tried to imagine if the film had any possible audience.

      Anyway, didn’t dislike the film because I couldn’t understand it. I like and I think other people like art that they don’t fully understand. Rather disliked it because to me it was a poorly made film. There were no elements of film making on display, camera movements, editing, direction or story, even the triptych basically wasn’t used. The film was made as if other films didn’t exist and as if no one had ever accomplished anything with a film before. I think there’s a difference between simply using a technology like film or writing and creating with it. I think many audience members got the impression that very little work went into creating anything with the filmed images and I believe they’re correct. There are great films that tackle similar themes, like Von Stroheim’s Greed, that are made with artistry, rather than simply made.

      I also agree with you that the Orchestra deserves just as much blame as the artist for agreeing to play with his film.

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  • avatar

    The music and musical performances were wonderful. I would suggest the film accompaniment was, in essence, 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in a garbage dump. Sooooooo derivative. Bob Hamel

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  • avatar

    It was a great to hear this piece live for the first time. Although I was not against the video component, I didn’t need it: the music already is inherently incredibly imagistic. I often preferred watching the fantastic ensemble of players.

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  • avatar

    I have liked the Quatuor pour la fin du temps and other chamber works by Messiaen since many years ago, but every time I have met Messiaen’s orchestral work, I have been very disappointed. Last year was in London, when I had the opportunity to hear Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, which I found quite contrived and boring. It was however much less than an hour, so I was not so bored as yesterday. I neither liked the famous Turangalila Symphony which many said is probably the most famous orchestral work by Messiaen. In Des canyons aux étoiles I enjoyed about five minutes of the whole work, which I found repetitive and unstructured. The video was just adding an extra layer of pain. What a silly thing! I am not a religious person, but Messiaen was, and adding this video to his mystical music is quite a lack of artistic empathy, I believe.

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    • avatar

      Hi Jose,

      Considering the “artistic empathy” of pairing Messiaen’s music with a filmic element is a really interesting way of reflectimg on this particular concert experience. While I can’t personally say that I took what we saw and heard yesterday as “a lack of artistic empathy,” it was clearly a jarring juxtaposition for a lot of the audience, and your post sums up some of those feelings really nicely.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      Mary, UMS

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  • avatar

    To begin: Messiaen’s “From the Canyons to the Stars” is an amazing piece of music, and it was very well performed by the Hamburg Symphony and soloists. I was thrilled to finally hear it live — and in Hill! — and to get for the first time the spatiality of the music. I would say, UMS, please: more Messiaen!

    I agree with those who are lamenting the inclusion of the film. The film had some redeeming qualities, and I could see it in a much, much shorter version as a standalone piece — not great, but a bit interesting. But to attach it to Messiaen’s piece was to my mind a complete misfire, and a real “lack of artistic empathy,” as José Tapia so aptly says above. Messiaen’s score is epic and rigorous; the film was clichéd and meandering. Pause and silence are so important in “Des Canyons”; I suppose I can see a point of challenging that silence with forced images — but really, no thanks.

    So, this was the last performance on the Hamburg’s US tour — but if there are future audiences elsewhere, my advice is: keep your eyes closed as much as possible and listen.

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    • Is it possible that the film maker was not interested in “empathy” or an “empathic commentary”?

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      • avatar

        I think that’s entirely possible, Michael, even likely. And I don’t think that the film had to be “empathic” in the sense of mimicking or simply resonating with Messiaen’s “text.” (One could also imagine a film filled with soaring and reverent images of canyons and stars and birds, which would also be a poor match.) But it does seem to me that if the film is to “interpret” the music, it should be challenging, intense and complex enough to be in real dialogue with the music. Otherwise, I don’t really see the point. For me, this film was nowhere near that. So, either the film takes precedence — e.g., “A film by Daniel Landau, accompanied by music of Olivier Messiaen” — or, you close your eyes and listen!

        Thanks, in any case, for this “renegade” concert. It’s a great season!

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  • avatar

    We did walk out even though we had to push past our friends and others in our row.

    The video certainly did not “celebrate the beauty of the earth and our unaltered landscapes” as described in the UMS promotional material for this concert.

    While we were walking through the lobby we heard the continuing performance and thought how much better it sounded in the lobby without the annoying and irrelavant video.

    I would like a refund.

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  • avatar

    The Hamburg Orchestra sounded great, especially the passages with the horn solo which remains my favorite part of the entire piece.

    The video component was interesting and I noticed some allusions to Catholicism which may have been on purpose to address the composer’s faith (The Last Supper), but overall I was wishing for something more coherent. While I could discern some kind of plot that did not make much sense to me, there were a number of images that just did not seem to connect (Old-aged people eating, the destruction of a car, let alone three individuals wearing enormously big animal heads). I agree with most who have commented, the video was a distraction and I was frustrated. I have generally been very harsh with music with video installations, as the installation never seems to follow the music in the way I expect it to (at least the ones I’ve seen), but perhaps it is beyond my comprehension, maybe that is the point…

    The music on the other hand was quite beautiful and filled with the noticeable birdsong transcriptions common to the composer, maybe too much so. I particularity enjoyed how the texture would resolve into a simple triad after moments of dissonance. Overall an interesting presentation.

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  • I’d been looking forward to this concert for six months. And the music, pianist and performance were perfection, everything I could have hooped for. What I did not expect was the amateurish, distracting, poorly lit, pointless video projection. The idea to do it may have been good but the execution was execrable – boring, colorless, unimaginative, random, deliberately ugly, perverse, and worst of all, willfully or ignorant counter to everything Messiaen intended with his music. It’s as if if Landau disdained or completely misconstrued Messiaen. Why Landau was chosen is a mystery, an insult to the audience, and devalued the cost of the tickets. I was embarrassed for the Hamburg orchestra that they had to put up with his incoherent visual rambling (or had they agreed to it, and why?). Let’s hope this “video artist” never again shows his work in Ann Arbor (superior video art can be found virtually anywhere you look in any venue and over the past 50 years). And let’s bring back the real Messiaen as soon as possible!

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  • I think I can safely say that many of you were less than enthused with the video element of yesterday’s performance. And I really appreciate all of the time folks have spent talking about the reasons they feel the way they do. With that said, I do want to push back a little bit on this idea that Daniel Landau’s video didn’t live up to expectations, didn’t “respect” the music, or didn’t do for the music what many of you wanted it to do.

    It’s pretty clear that this piece of music is about natural beauty and a man’s reverence of nature. It’s also pretty clear that this is not the film Landau wanted to create. So now what. Do we judge the outcome based on what we had hoped of the film? It’s easy to do that, but maybe not totally fair. Our subjective experience of the quality of the film, its success at delivering its message, how well the two paired together, these are things we can debate. But to hold against it the fact that it doesn’t uphold the beauty so many of us see in Messiaen’s work (and that Messiaen himself wanted us to see), is that fair?

    Mary, UMS

    Reply
    • My favorite moment of “different people see and think differently” was after watching a film short at the Ann Arbor Film Festival a few years ago with my husband. It used a Chopin piano solo as the soundtrack, and the video was close-up shots of a bicycle.

      I thought the piece was brilliant – the bicycle images lined up in brightness and complexity with exactly the notes you heard. The louder the music, the brighter the image. The more notes in the chord, the more parts you saw. Technically fascinating. I was able to “see” exactly what I “heard”.

      My husband, a pianist, detested the film. He knows the piece well, and thought that the image completely destroyed the intent of the music. He was physically disturbed just watching the five-minute long piece.

      To him, it was not “what it should be”. To me, I took it for what it was.

      Now, I didn’t see the piece at Hill on Sunday, so I cannot comment on the particular “mashup” as it were. But I did learn that pieces such as this can create intense discussion, as evidenced by the plethora of comments here, and maybe that’s the best part of what arts & culture bring to us. My husband and I still talk about the Chopin piece to this day!

      The moral was really that no one view of a piece is ever right or wrong. Maybe, just maybe – “the *discussion’s* the thing!”

      Beth Gilliland, UMS

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      • avatar

        What both of these “push-backs” miss is that people bought tickets to hear Messiaen’s composition.

        So Mary, you ask: “But to hold against it the fact that it doesn’t uphold the beauty so many of us see in Messiaen’s work (and that Messiaen himself wanted us to see), is that fair?”

        Yes, it is completely fair. The fact is, most people go to a concert because they want to listen to the music. If you pair a complex score with a movie that that makes it impossible to focus [ie. HEAR] the music, then you’ve defeated the whole point in going. The fact that the film with juvenille and artless is besides the point. It’s main offense was that it made it impossible to hear the music unless you closed your eyes.

        You say Landau clearly didn’t want to make a film about natural beauty. I would like to point out this was not a submission to a lame hipster film festival, but a commissioned video for this music. There is a difference.

        And Beth, a film that uses classical music in it is not analogous. You go to a film festival to see films, and that’s what you saw. I go to Messiaen concerts to hear Messiaen, which I was able to do as that joke of a film made it impossible to focus. Since you were not there, suffice to say it was so bad people were audibly laughing at it.

        Reply
        • If one goes to film festivals to see films…and one goes to concerts to hear music…what happens when one goes to a performance of devised work where the collaborative disciplinary voices create a hybrid, interdisciplinary output? (I am not arguing that yesterday’s experience necessarily be viewed in this way…but I am asking an honest question.)

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          • avatar

            My guess is very very few people went yesterday because of the multimedia, or had even heard of Landau before this. This was first and foremost a performance of Messiaen. That was after all, how it was billed.

    • avatar

      I think you could say safely that many people were disgusted by the video, not just less than enthused.

      My problem isn’t that the video failed to respect the music, but that it failed to respect the audience. I have no problem with Landau choosing to make an ugly film. My problem is that the film is poorly made, in the extreme. My disgust was in seeing the juxtaposition of the talent and work of the orchestra against a crap video. The only hope I had for the film is that it be a FILM”. The story, characters, editing and staging were all poorly done and not indicative of any kind of professional talent. The photography was okay at times, but the triptych was basically superfluous and not really used. These things are indicative of a lack of creativity and effort on the part of Landau to create something original, that engages an audience, rather than assemble a series of poorly thought out photographs. The ugliness for me wasn’t in the subject of the images, but the laziness of them and the implication that the audience should accept that laziness as something worth their consideration. Landau started a conversation, but so would belching in an art gallery and while that conversation might even prove interesting, I wouldn’t commission someone just to belch.

      Reply
    • I think it’s perfectly fair to hold that “It doesn’t uphold the beauty so many of us see in Messiaen’s work” against the film. This film was supposed to be a counterpoint to the imagery composed around in Messiaen’s piece. It did not appear that way to the audience; not only was it ugly, it was incomprehensible and made no sense in the context of Messaien’s work, and *still* doesn’t make that much sense after the fact, having learnt what the film was trying to accomplish. Now, had the audience gone into this experience knowing full-well what this was supposed to be that would be okay, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the audience last night came to hear a major work by Messiaen, not whatever it was that we got. Projects like this are allowed to shock their audiences to convey a message, but the fact of the matter is that to get away with it and be good art they have to succeed in *conveying* their message, and I, like so many others last night, had NO idea what we had just seen, and still, having perused everything readily available on the project, *still* don’t understand much of that film, and really don’t understand how it connects to Messiaen’s work, ‘counterpoint’ or not.

      In short, we weren’t expecting that, and that would be okay *if it were good*, but it wasn’t. The film didn’t successfully juxtapose with Messaien’s music; whatever the film was trying for is too far removed from the composer’s work to successfully connect with it and simply detracted from the music that most of us came to hear.

      Reply
  • avatar

    The music was interesting. The video did not put me at ease like a trip to Southern Utah. The constant reference to the landfill made me think of the unfortunate label, “Eurotrash.”. ..if the New Yorker reviewed the concert it would get two thumbs down…Please let me end with a heart felt compliment to the musicians.

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  • avatar

    The emperor has no clothes!

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  • avatar

    One good thing about all of this is that it’s generating conversation. The orchestra and soloists were good but the film, to our opinion, was disgusting and a waste of time. We left feeling that this was the worst concert we had ever attended in our lives, no kidding. The most entertaining part was watching people walk out during the performance. The lackluster applause at the conclusion was pathetic.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Although I agree with the general sentiment expressed here (wonderful performance of a 20th-century masterpiece though the film misfired), I’d like to thank and congratulate UMS for taking a programming risk. Please don’t be dissuaded from taking another similar risk in the future. I’ll be there!

    Reply
  • avatar

    I tried really hard to enjoy the video, but, like many others have stated, I loved the music, and disliked the video. I found it to be distracting, especially when people started laughing at it (which really is just shameful and embarrassing). The video made me feel disconnected from the music, and really quite hopeless, whereas the purpose of the music was a celebratory connection with nature. I often found myself closing my eyes, staring at the ground, and doodling in order to avoid watching.

    That being said, I still enjoyed the performance for the music’s sake. The orchestra was extremely talented, and I applaud their performance of a breathtaking piece of music.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Going into the performance, I was hesitant of the film accompaniment. Based on the clips I had seen, I thought it would remove from, or pollute the experience. As the piece started, I was surprised to see the movie did not begin with the music. I liked this, because I felt it separated the two entities in a way that highlights the music as it should. I found myself going long stretches of time without watching the film. I little old man man, who may have been birthed by the mother in the water, certainly captured my attention. When the music grew dull, I found the screen a great entertainment. I think the multimedia approach to this show works creates an interesting twist on the music and wider audience appeal.

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  • avatar

    “NO! NO!! Don’t listen to the music and form your own mental images! Look at my film, you destroyers of the earth!”
    I watched every moment of the film, afraid I might miss something important. I did. It was most of the fantastic musical performance that I missed. The film was an intriguing and distracting assault.

    Ginny

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  • avatar

    I was incredibly excited to attend a live performance of “From the Canyon to the Stars.” I’ve been a fan of Messiaen’s music for a while, and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to see such a landmark piece in concert. I was also interested in the concept of having the music accompanied by a film. Multimedia presentations of works can be a wonderful way for us to take a new look at an established piece.

    First of all, the Hamburg Symphony’s performance of the piece was absolutely fantastic, and the soloists were really outstanding. Messiaen’s music is incredibly rhythmically and harmonically complex, and it was wonderful to hear it played so expertly.

    That being said, I, like many others, was not terribly impressed with the film that accompanied the music. As a whole, I didn’t feel as if the film really enhanced or in any way positively affected my conception of the music. That is not to say that I thought that the film was completely without value. I entered the performance with little to no expectations of what the film would contain, and after reading the program notes, I was given the impression that the film would at least loosely correspond with the various movements and themes of the music. While I think that the film did in some ways reflected the themes that Messiaen sets forth, I think there were a lot of ways in which it went beyond the music and set forth its own agenda. While I don’t necessarily think this means that the film was a failure, I think it raises some troublesome issues.

    It is difficult to view the performance as a collaborative piece, given that the music and film were not created in conjunction with each other (the music being close to 40 years old and Messiaen having been dead for the last 20). As with many of Messiaen’s works, the piece is also full of very specific references and programmatic elements. While I didn’t expect the film to be merely a slideshow of majestic Western scenery, I don’t know how faithfully it reflected Messiaen’s music. This kind of juxtaposition of ideas is not in any way an invalid artistic statement, but it seems a little difficult to justify without the involvement of both the filmmaker and the composer. There were many instances (such as the second large Piano cadenza in the 9th movement) when the character of the music was completely contradicted by the more confrontational and abrasive elements of the film. While this could have been Landau’s intent, I am left to wonder whether Messiaen would have appreciated the jarring effect that this created in his music. I also felt that the film tended to take focus away from the music, sometimes to an excessive degree. Despite the “collaborative” nature of the project, the music and image spent more time clashing against each other than they did creating a unified artistic vision. It was also very difficult to understand how much of the film related to Messiaen’s ideas, such as his use of bird songs or the profound influence of his religion on the work. It was almost as if two separate things were happening at once, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it seemed to go against the stated intent of the piece. It is almost impossible to conceive of how one could “collaborate” with a dead composer by so drastically deviating from the complex framework that is already laid out in the music.

    Again, I do not necessarily think this means that the film was an outright failure, just poorly paired with a work that is already full of so much meaning and significance. I think the film would have been much better served by being part of a true collaborative process, with music that was created with this pairing in mind. While the effect might have been exactly the same, it would have reflected an intent on the part of both the composer and the filmmaker. As it was, the work seemed to only reflect an intent superimposed upon an already existing piece.

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  • avatar

    At the beginning of the performance, I was thinking to myself that this experience would be really cool the entire illusion was that the music was providing background for the video, where due to the lack of words, the music would allow us to feel the emotion in the video. However, as the concert went on, I began to feel a strong disconnect and it almost didn’t even make sense. I tried to put music to the scene but at times it just felt horribly wrong. Perhaps it was meant to all line up and the tempos got off, but the effect and relationship between the two made me disengage with the music, which was the reason why I came. I tried to hard to follow the video, I completely forgot about the music aspect.

    Reply
  • Now, to be perfectly clear, I don’t think it was a bad thing to have this concert – putting on risky performances like this is how new forms of great art and music are promoted, and I think it’s important to reinforce the appreciation a few others have expressed towards UMS for bringing Hamburg and Messiaen to Hill. These kinds of avant-garde concerts are important to have, and by all means they should continue. However, in this instance, the experiment painfully failed and didn’t achieve its artistic goals. This shouldn’t be a deterrent to other unusual performances; more of a lesson in marketing (reactions wouldn’t be so negative if this had been billed as a unique work instead of a Messiaen concert with a film). And, of course, in caution when modifying another’s works.

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  • avatar

    There are those who welcome the “openness” of the work, and there are those who condemned the video as ugly and disgusting. Some people want to see the unblemished grandeur of the Rockies. Others see the aptness of Landau’s reminder that the natural beauties of America are in jeopardy. UGLY and DISGUSTING was intended even though it offends those who wish to ignore what is happening. Who owns this work — that is the question. Can the Hamburg Symphony recast it in a more contemporary form or are they spoiling it as they portray the spoiling of the Great West?

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    • avatar

      When ugly visual images are superimposed onto music, it changes the perception of the music completely: beautiful sounds become ugly. Objecting to this being done to Messiaen’s (or any other) music in no way means that one is choosing to ignore environmental crises. Ruining a hearing of Messiaen’s music does absolutely nothing to help the natural environment, or of our awareness of it needing help!

      Reply
  • 82

    PERFORMANCES & EVENTS

    Dawnofmidi-new-334x230
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    1/31/2015

    Dawn of MIDI

    Helen and Edgar production
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    1/7-1/10/2015

    Helen & Edgar

    Superposition production
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    10/31/2014-11/1/2014

    Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition

    Valery Gergiev conductor
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    1/24-1/25/2015

    Mariinsky Orchestra

    Bob James
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    11/15/2014

    Bob James

    Cinderella production
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    4/24-4/26/2015

    Lyon Opera Ballet

    Messiah score on organ
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    12/6-12/7/2014

    Handel’s Messiah

    Michael Tilson Thomas conducts
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    11/13-11/14/2014

    San Francisco Symphony