Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Esa-Pekka Salonen All Ages Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Thu., May 21, 8 p.m., Fri., May 22, 1:30 p.m. and Sat., May 23, 8 p.m. 2015

A three-week residency by conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen concludes this week with performances of Olivier Messiaen’s larger-than-life Turangalîla-Symphonie (1946-’48), the work Salonen says made him want to write music. Commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1945, the ten-movement tour de force was largely savaged after its 1949 premiere (conducted by Leonard Bernstein), but time has allowed for its reappraisal. Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde and meant to explore love from both male and female perspectives, Turangalîla finds Messiaen ditching traditional symphonic structures, though there are four central themes recurring throughout. As a newcomer to modern classical music I was drawn to the piece by the presence of the early electronic keyboard called the ondes Martenot, whose otherworldly parts expand the sonorous strings with eerie glissandos and piercing tones. Then over time I became more enamored of the epic’s extremes in volume and tone, which are tempered with a sure-handed sense of motion and drama. Messiaen’s maximalist masterpiece is a parade of shifting moods and timbres, moving from ebullient triumph to romantic reverie to stormy uncertainty. There are moments when the contrapuntal winds, brass, and strings unite in a fury as well as passages of comparative austerity—like the several extended piano solos, played here by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. I rediscovered the work last year thanks to a searing rendition for Ondine Records by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, featuring Valérie Hartmann-Claverie on ondes Martenot; she’ll join the CSO for these special performances. —Peter Margasak

Price: $29-$216

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