Ear Supply: Oh L'Amour

Messiaen's epic love machine.

Kaleidoscopic chaos and quiet, pointillist meditativeness. Lurid and stentorian brass chorales. Tremulous, lubricious melodies that Puccini would have found a bit overripe. Instruments imitating twittering bird calls. A borderline-unplayable piano solo and a central role for the ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument playable either by a keyboard or by a slide mechanism (to provide "Good Vibrations"-style swoops). Olivier Messiaen poured all this and more into his 10-movement, 80-minute Turangalîla-symphonie, completed in 1948, which the Seattle Symphony will play this weekend for the first time. (A pickup orchestra, which I sat in with, organized by the Northwest Mahler Festival gave the Seattle premiere in 2007; it's crazy difficult.) A cathedral organist for 60 years, Messiaen was most drawn to Roman Catholicism's mystical, theosophist side, expressed in music of explosive ecstasy. Beginning work on Turangalîla, he also mixed in aspects of Eastern spiritualism, coining the piece's portmanteau Sanskrit title—"love song" is the simplest translation. If you don't have a taste for the extravagant, the most over-the-top passages might sound a little like a nun having an orgasm, as scored by John Williams; if you do, do not miss this. For this concert's first half, conductor Ludovic Morlot will walk us through the piece, with an ondes Martenot demo from performer Cynthia Millar, while Jean-Yves Thibaudet takes the piano part. Benaroya Hall, Third Avenue and Union Street, 215-4747, seattlesymphony.org. $19–$112. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 31, 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 2.

 
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