Since Mark Simpson’s Prom with the BBC Philharmonic a couple of nights ago, it feels like the Proms has bedded in nicely. Similarly with Prom 6 and the BBC Symphony’s performance Messiaen’s Turangalila.
There are sections in Messiaen’s epic work I remember from my A-Level studies. We were given a thick soft-spined A4 book packed full of excerpts covering a wide range of repertoire, all printed on glossy paper my HB pencil failed to make a significant impression on.
Turangalila was one of the works on the course. Short excerpts from a seemingly impenetrable incomprehensible work. Teachers telling me it was amazing but me not understanding exactly why. There was nothing I could connect with.
All I could really do was listen to the various excerpts over and over again, learn some facts, and practice regurgitation for the final exam. Turangalila represented an obligation or a criterion for an exam I wanted to do well in but felt slightly at sea sitting. How could I write convincingly about a work if I didn’t feel
Searching through my Flickr account, I’m reminded that the last time I heard Turangalila was at the Proms ten years ago. Berlin Philharmonic. Rattle. I’m surprised reading the accompanying blog post back ten years later that a) it makes sense, b) I remember the experience I was writing about, and c) the live performance had convinced me even then that actually this was an utterly brilliant work – a must-listen.
There’s a duality in my thinking listening back to Prom 6 this (for a second time at the time of writing). I remember keenly how alienated and inferior I felt as a sixth-former listening to and not understanding Turangalila.
At the same