Starting at 7 PM tonight, watch the live webcast of Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night with the dynamic Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony of Venezuela on medici.tv.
The program will include Ravel’s La valse, Stravinsky’s La sacre du printemps, and selected music for dance from around the world.
Today is #AskAnArchivist Day! Archivists around the country will take to social media to answer your questions about any and all things related to archives. Take this opportunity to engage with Carnegie Hall’s Rose Museum and Archives team by posing your question with hashtag #AskAnArchivist.
Or, if you have your question ready, head over to Carnegie Hall’s Facebook Page and keep an eye out for a live session with Gino this afternoon!
Update: The live stream of Gino Francesconi can be viewed below:
Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie, premiered by Leonard Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1949, is one of the most epic symphonic works of the 20th century. An example of “world music” long before that term had currency, it combines the Tristan myth, Eastern mysticism, Hindu and Greek rhythms, Indian scales, African dance, Indonesian drumming, and Poe-inspired Gothicism, while laying out Messiaen’s lifelong signatures, including birdsong, piercing woodwind choirs, and mystical blocks of sound. Scored for a huge orchestra—including multiple percussionists, an electronic keyboard instrument, and a virtuosic piano solo—it unfolds in 10 movements, some harshly dissonant, others unabashedly sensual. It retains elements of classical form, but inaugurates a counter-tradition of stasis, repetition, and mosaic-like color patterns. The subject is love: its euphoria, terror, and link with death. Few symphonic works are more challenging, yet more viscerally thrilling.
Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie is an elaborate “world music” hybrid written long before that term obtained currency. Like Berlioz’s Requiem and the eighth symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler, it is massive and monumental, requiring an uncompromising commitment from players and audience. In addition to a gigantic orchestra full of exotic percussion, it includes an electronic instrument, the ondes Martenot (a relative of the theremin, which Miklós Rózsa unveiled in Hitchcock’s Spellbound), and a virtuosic piano part.
The Turangalîla-symphonie is an elaborate “world music” hybrid written long before that term obtained currency.
Unlike Messiaen’s overtly religious works, such as Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine, Turangalîla is secular and fleshy, depicting desire, death, and the extremities of love. Messiaen said that it encapsulates “a love that is fatal, irresistible, and which, as a rule, leads to death; a love which, to some extent, invokes death, for it transcends the body—even the limits of the mind—and extends on a cosmic scale.” The title, based on two Sanskrit words, is resistant to translation, but Messiaen tried anyway: “Turangalîla means all at the same time song of love, hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death.”
Messiaen’s works often come with otherworldly titles and explications. He called the fifth movement of Turangalîla “Joy of the Blood of the Stars”; in a note that accompanied his orchestral work Des canyons aux étoiles, he stated that the canyons in Utah were “landscapes like those we’ll probably see after death, if we then have the chance to visit other planets.” It is easy to make fun of such commentary, and the convoluted specificity of Messiaen’s visionary musings has not helped his cause among intellectuals. The music, however, makes us believe it all, at least while we’re listening. In any case, Messiaen’s dazzling color and near painful ecstasy cannot be bound by words, even if he (like Wagner, Scriabin, and others who were taken with their own mythologies) issues a torrent of them.
Turangalîla is sometimes fiercely dissonant, but more often euphorically lyrical. The second, fourth, and eighth movements (all depictions of amorous love) contain some of the most passionate music Messiaen ever wrote—orgiastic “explosions,” as he called them. The work has many of his signatures—birdsong (sung mainly by the piano), piercing wind sonorities, meditative blocks of sound, and a complex layering of textures—but it also has an uninhibited theatricality. It unfolds according to its own vast and eccentric scheme, renouncing classical symphonic structures, but its constantly resurfacing themes and colors make it relatively easy to absorb. The slow music, especially the sixth-movement adagio, “Garden of Love’s Sleep,” has a hypnotic sensuality; the fast sections are delirious churnings of joy and energy. The fifth and 10th movements, which break the symphony into two parts, end with a thrilling diatonic chord that rises in crescendo until it reaches the heavens. It is one of the most spine-tingling endings in 20th-century music, and we get to hear it twice.
The Turangalîla-symphonie was commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra by Serge Koussevitzky, and was one of several major works by composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky, and Bartók (including the Concerto for Orchestra, premiered by the BSO five years earlier) that would not exist were it not for this enterprising Russian maestro. Koussevitzky had an uncanny ability to smell a masterpiece in the making and was undaunted by length or personnel requirements. Because of illness, he was unable to premiere Messiaen’s symphony himself, and passed the baton to 31-year-old Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the first performance of Turangalîla in 1949. Yvonne Loriod, Messiaen’s wife-to-be, played the difficult piano part. The piece baffled some and thrilled others; it still occasions both cheers and walkouts. Koussevitzky called it “the greatest composition in our century” after Le sacre du printemps. Critics had a different view. Virgil Thomson snapped that the piece came “straight from the Hollywood cornfields,” and Rudolph Elie at the Boston Herald denounced its “appalling melodic tawdriness.”
The dynamic Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela open the 2016–2017 season with selected music for dance. The program includes Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, which invoked riots when it premiered in 1913. As Dudamel puts it, “Spring reflects a new beginning, something important to young people. I've known Le sacre since my first concert as a thirteen-year-old violinist in my hometown orchestra. Now it’s also an important piece for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. We first played it in 2009 in London, Madrid, Lisbon and, of course, several times in Venezuela. This orchestra simply have these rhythms in their blood—they even make one passage sound like heavy metal.”
Read more about Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps and watch Gustavo Dudamel discuss opening Carnegie Hall’s 2016–2017 season. Learn more about Opening Night with Gustavo Dudamel and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.
“Primitive with every modern convenience.” That’s how Claude Debussy described Le sacre du Printemps in an ironic form of praise that perfectly sums up the conjunction of primitivism and the modernism in Stravinsky’s revolutionary score. The original ballet conception involved the pagan sacrifice of a young girl to the ancient god of spring—a spring, in Lawrence Gilman’s words, “as it was before there were Spring poets and Corot landscapes and the bleatings of young love.” But the music itself, with its enormous sophistication and complexity, was utterly new.
Le sacre, in fact, is arguably the landmark of 20th-century modern music. Although atonal and polytonal works by Schoenberg, Webern, and Ives (not to mention long stretches of The Firebird and Pétrouchka) preceded Le sacre, nothing else had as much influence, notoriety, and sheer sensational impact. Stravinsky partisans viewed the work as nothing less than a new art form; horrified detractors saw it as the destruction of music as an art altogether. Le sacre was to music as Joyce’s Ulysses was to fiction and Eliot’s The Waste Land was to poetry: Nothing could ever be quite the same after it.
The 1913 Paris premiere for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes was probably the most raucous in musical history, noisier even than the music itself. Stravinsky recalled that “mild protests against the music could be heard from the beginning”; during the first scene, “the storm broke … I left the hall in a rage.” By the end, with shouts, jeers, cheers, and bodily blows being exchanged throughout the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Paris riot police were called in. Pierre Monteux continued conducting to music that could barely be heard: “I kept my eyes on the score, playing the exact tempo Igor had given me and which, I must say, I have never forgotten. As you know, the public reacted in a scandalous manner.” In Stravinsky’s words, Diaghilev kept “switching the house lights on and off in the hope that this might quiet the hall,” while choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky “stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.”
The next year, Stravinsky heard Monteux conduct the score as a concert piece to a crowd of young people, an altogether different experience: At the end, recalled Stravinsky, “the entire audience stood up and cheered. I came on stage and hugged Monteux, who was a river of perspiration—it was the saltiest hug of my life. A crowd swept backstage. I was hoisted to anonymous shoulders and carried.” Later, Stravinsky decided that he preferred Le sacre as a concert piece, undermining the elaborate “pagan” program with the famous quip that the music is “architectonic, not anecdotal.”
Le sacre certainly needs no ballet scenarios, which almost invariably pale beside what the music ignites in our imagination. Its sheer visceral power is spellbinding. As has been frequently pointed out, it restored the primacy of rhythm to music and changed, in the words of the late Pierre Boulez, “the direction of rhythmic impulse.” Its violent, continually shifting pulsation carried a charge (many say a sexual one) never before felt in Western concert music and that still, when performed with full ferocity, sounds avant-garde. “Nothing can dilute,” said Boulez, its “tension and rhythmic life.” Combined with Stravinsky’s densely polytonal harmonies and hallucinated colors, this pulse is like an elemental force, a tornado of energy.
According to Stravinsky, Le sacre is much less tied to tradition than other “revolutionary” works of the period. Unlike Berg and Webern, who “were supported by a great tradition,” Stravinsky was “guided by no system whatsoever … I had only my ear to help me; I heard and I wrote what I heard.” The piece was inspired by a “fleeting vision” of a young girl dancing herself to death during a savage rite. According to Richard Taruskin, however, Stravinsky was actually steeped in his own tradition—that of Russian folklore and poetry—and his dream vision was rather typical: “This was by no means an unusual sort of dream for a creative artist to have in St. Petersburg in 1910.” Still, no one in that period transmitted such a dream into anything remotely like Le sacre du printemps.
My introduction to Carnegie Hall was an unusual one. I was somewhere in my 20s when Jascha Heifetz, along with Gregor Piatigorsky and Leonard Pennario, invited my then husband and me to come to New York, where they were giving chamber music concerts. At the time, we all lived in Southern California. I had been to New York once or twice, but never to Carnegie Hall.
On our first day in the city, my husband and I went to hear them rehearse. We were sitting in the fi rst or second row when Jascha put down his violin and came over to ask me if I would please go up to one of the boxes in the First Tier on the right side of the hall to see how the music sounded.
So I climbed up to the First Tier boxes on the right side, then the left, and finally the middle, facing the stage directly. “It sounds beautiful,” I said when I came down. “Okay, now please go to up to the top Balcony.” After that, I was instructed to listen from the Second Tier. This went on for quite a while—and included lots of stairs—until I had covered the entire hall. There wasn’t a bad spot in the whole place. It was a glorious introduction to Carnegie Hall, a place that I have loved and enjoyed ever since.
Our Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesconi recounts a simple phone call that led to a remarkable and memorable discovery of a concert at Carnegie Hall.
In November 2014, I received a phone call from Alexis Warrington, a graduate intern who was working at the River Garden Hebrew Home in Jacksonville, Florida, as part of her master’s program at Florida State University. She was calling on behalf of a resident who said she had performed in a jazz concert at Carnegie Hall on November 29, 1957, and wanted to know if she could have a copy of the promotional flyer as a keepsake.
I was excited to hear the date because that event is one of the most famous jazz concerts in Carnegie Hall’s history. Actually, there were two concerts that night, one at 8:30 PM and another at midnight, and both were benefits for the Morningside Community Center. Called Thanksgiving Jazz at Carnegie Hall, it featured a list of artists that reads like a fantasy: Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra, Chet Baker with Zoot Sims and his quartet, and the Thelonious Monk Quartet performing with John Coltrane. And making their Carnegie Hall debuts were Ray Charles and Sonny Rollins! I was anxious to know, “Who is your resident that performed at that concert?”
Alexis replied, “Zena Latto.”
I wasn’t familiar with that name and nothing turned up in our database. I checked several times. I then said that the resident must be mistaken because we have information about everyone who appeared at the events, and Zena Latto’s name was not among them.
Alexis replied that she was holding a copy a flyer on which she could read Zena Latto’s name, although misspelled as Lotta. She said the flyer was in very bad shape—more in pieces than intact, very brittle, and held together with tape. But, “It reads clearly across the top: Carnegie Recital Hall.” There was nothing in our database about an event in the Recital Hall, today’s Weill Recital Hall. I asked her to email a photo.
Sure enough there was the event entitled JAZZ: female. While one of the most famous jazz gatherings was taking place in the main hall, next door in the recital hall, nine women were also performing jazz. The first name at the top of the list I knew: Morgana King. But I didn’t know her from jazz—I knew her as Marlon Brando’s wife in The Godfather. Next on the list was Melba Liston, the first female trombonist to play with Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday, among others.
I asked if Ms. Latto would speak on the phone, and we made an appointment. When I called, she was so excited that someone from Carnegie Hall had contacted to ask about her life. “Zena is my name—don’t say Ms. Latto, please!”
She was 89 and full of life. She wanted to share so much that she flew from topic to topic without pausing: She was now confined to a wheelchair; she grew up in the Bronx; she loved jazz the first time she heard it; her father was from Poland, her mother from Russia. She had practiced so hard on the clarinet, and they made her switch to alto sax at the last moment for the concert. Dizzy Gillespie had wandered over to see Melba Liston, causing the first show in the main hall to be delayed by more than 20 minutes. Benny Goodman was a mentor, and she called her clarinet “Benny.” She asked if I could get her a Selmer mouthpiece because the one she had now wasn’t as good. They let her play for an hour every day in Jacksonville, and she had performed all over the country in an all-female band called the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and then formed her own called the Moderne Moods. She moved to New Orleans, earned a degree at the age of 60, and then lost almost everything during Hurricane Katrina, except some music, her clarinet, and the flyer (which was now in poor shape). And did we have a better copy we could share?
I told her not only was her copy of the flyer the only one I had ever seen, we didn’t even know the concert took place!
Our colleague, Rob Hudson, called a former teacher, Cristina Pattuelli, associate professor at the Pratt Institute’s School of Information and director of Linked Jazz—a research project that explores relationships among jazz musicians—who had recently focused on women in jazz. Cristina Skyped and interviewed Zena, added another wonderful story to her connections, and with her crew created Zena’s Wikipedia page.
The intern, Alexis, shared how thrilled Zena was from all the attention and to have an outlet to share her memories and love of music. Alexis joined the Mayo Clinic after graduation and because of Zena was invited to return full-time to River Garden.
In April 2016, we received word that Zena had died at the age of 90. Suzanne Lyda, director of social services at River Garden, sent a package containing some of Zena’s musical archives to Cristina and inside was also the flyer, carefully wrapped. We received it with much gratitude and, knowing how badly damaged it was, we dared not open it but instead sent it directly to the Northeast Document Conservation Center. We have sent them many thousands of our concert programs to be conserved as part of a five-year quest to digitize our archival collections. The attached photos show the extraordinary process, patience, care, and talent required to preserve Zena’s flyer.
And to think it was all from a simple phone call that led to a remarkable discovery and memorable journey.
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