There's a reason Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla isn't performed very often. A challenging piece, to say the least, it is an epic, extremely avant-garde and complex work of music – "a heavy, heavy listen" is how Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Director of Artistic Planning Heather Slater puts it.
It's also masterful. And when the CPO began putting together its J'aime Paris Festival (on now), Turangaglîla, which premiered in 1949, was a natural. "It deserves to be heard," says Ms. Slater.
How to make it more accessible? For Turangalîla's Alberta debut, the CPO commissioned the Alberta College of Art + Design to create a visual installation that would serve not simply as a bells-and-whistles complement but as a spectacular explainer.
Building on Messiaen's synesthesia – he perceived music as colours – a team led by ACAD's Kurtis Lesick created a revolutionary visual interpretation of this revolutionary orchestral work.
"That installation component is basically there as a bridge … providing symbolic meanings, colour codes, emotive context, insights about him, insights about the time [with] references to popular culture," says Mr. Lesick.
At rehearsal, the work's unsettling wood block was accompanied by a disjunctive burst of colour.
And the eerie low brass "statue theme," as Messiaen called it, unleashed a ghostly image of a woman walking the distance of the stage in tempo with the music.
"It's almost like a listening guide," says Ms. Slater. "[It] makes you feel like you're inside his head."
Tour de Force: Carnival of the Animals and Turangalîla is at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary Saturday at 8 pm.