Led by Simone Young, ANAM is thrilled to be joining the Australian World Orchestra (AWO) for a one night only performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Considered to be one of the most important pieces of the 20th century, Turangalîla is both a monumental symphony and virtuosic piano concerto, demanding the full commitment of over one hundred orchestral musicians.
ANAM alumnus Jacob Abela will be joining ANAM and AWO for this exciting performance playing the electronic ondes Martenot (pronounced “and martin-oh). We had a chat with Jacob to discuss this unique instrument, Messiaen and the upcoming concert.
As a little teaser, listen to Episode Four of the podcast MyThirdEar, where Tamara Kohler (ANAM alumna) and Jacob examine the instrument – demonstrations included!
Why are you committed to pursuing the ondes Martenot as an instrument?
I have always been attracted to the road less travelled in music, so it’s because of my curiosity that I got involved with the ondes in the first place. As soon as I started playing it, I realised its huge potential, began researching the repertoire (which is unsurprisingly small), and my obsession grew from there.
What role did ANAM play?
In my first year at ANAM in 2013, Peter Hill was guest faculty for a Bach/Messiaen project, in which I played a couple of short unpublished pieces for ondes and piano by Messiaen. I am not sure if those pieces had been performed in Australia before that point, and I am very grateful for ANAM and the MSO for making the instrument available to me.
What are the challenges of playing the instrument in general? And challenges specifically in Turangalîla?
The ondes has a very unique playing style which is similar to a string or wind instrument. You prepare the pitch with your right hand either on the keyboard or on the ribbon, and you control volume and articulation with your left hand on a button called the touche d’intensité. This requires a great deal of coordination, especially when playing on the ribbon, as intonation becomes a variable (which I am not very used to as a pianist!).
In Turangalîla, the ondes is responsible for the majority of the big sweeping love themes which soar over the orchestra, so the main challenge for me is being in control of the affect and phrasing while often being an octave (or more) higher than the rest of the orchestra. The huge expressive potential of the ondes gives way to endless possibilities, so it’s my responsibility to be in control of each musical element in any given phrase.
Why is Messiaen’s music so appealing to you?
To me, Messiaen wrote music very honestly. He was responsible for a number of groundbreaking innovations in composition in the 20th century, including the introduction of integral serialism in the 1950s, but he always kept true to his own aesthetic. Turangalîla-Symphonie is a fantastic example of this, as he uses all of his compositional techniques described in his publication The Technique of My Musical Language, including a few techniques at the cutting edge of compositional practice at the time, but the music is still unmistakably Messiaen.
What are you looking forward to in the AWO/ANAM concert in July?
I am excited about every aspect of this project. This is the kind of repertoire I dream of performing, and I get to perform it with two incredible organisations at the same time. I am deeply honoured to be performing as a soloist under Simone Young, and to be sharing the stage as soloist with my teacher from ANAM, Timothy Young. The AWO has proven itself to be one of the best orchestras in the world, and ANAM is the training ground for some of the world’s best musicians.
What would you say to audiences thinking about attending the concert?
Everything in Turangalîla-Symphonie has been written in hyper colour. Expect your expectations of orchestral/classical music to be thwarted, and experience every moment of the piece as fully as possible. There are moments of extreme delicacy and beauty which are to be savoured, and there are moments of wild delirium which have real, lasting impact in a live concert environment.
Tell us a bit about your compositions/commissioning project for the ondes Martenot…
When I first started improvising on the instrument, I noticed how easy it was to dramatically change the sounds coming out of the instrument. This appealed to me greatly as a performer, but it also opened my eyes to compositional ideas. I then approached a number of friends who compose music, and gauged their interest in writing works for the instrument. In 2014 when I started playing the ondes in earnest, there was no Australian music for the instrument. Since then, I have written two works, Perth-based composer Jared Yapp has written a piece for ondes, percussion and strings, and Richard Mills wrote an ondes part for Victorian Opera’s 2017 production of ’Tis Pity, starring Meow Meow. I’m really excited at how quickly this has gained traction, and I hope the body of work for the instrument will grow exponentially over the coming years.
What’s coming up next for you?
After the AWO/ANAM collaboration, I’ll be playing the ondes with the MSO in their performance of the film score from There Will Be Blood, which is a fantastic score written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.
Sat 29 July 8pm
Jacob Abela ondes martenot
Timothy Young piano
Simone Young AM conductor
Australian World Orchestra
Venue: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au or 1300 182 183
Image: Cameron Jamieson Photography