Nashville Symphony Closes 2018/19 Classical Series with Messiaen’s Masterful Turangalîla-Symphonie

Performances on May 17-18 to feature two world-class soloists and the rare ondes Martenot

Nashville, Tenn. (May 2, 2019) — The Nashville Symphony’s 2018/19 Classical Series culminates on May 17-18 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center with Turangalîla-Symphonie, French composer Olivier Messiaen’s vivid “song of love,” which has influenced multiple generations of musicians and features the ondes Martenot, a vintage electronic instrument with qualities similar to a theremin. 

One of the composer’s best-known works, Turangalîla blends bird songs, Hindu music, Indonesian gamelan, percussive piano and soaring orchestral melodies to create what Messiaen called “a hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life and death.” Prior to the performance, Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero, piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and ondes Martenot player Cynthia Millar will present a lecture and demonstration in the concert hall focusing on this rare instrument, which plays a significant role in Turangalîla and much of Messiaen’s repertoire. 

Great seats are available starting at $20 (while supplies last, additional fees apply), and the Symphony’s Soundcheck program offers $10 tickets to students in K-12, college and grad school. 

About the Program

Messiaen ranks as one of the most unique and influential composers of the 20th century, celebrated as a trailblazer for the avant-garde who also had a profound respect for Western musical traditions. Strongly informed by his devout Catholicism, his distinctive catalog – which runs the gamut from astonishingly complex to surprisingly accessible – has impacted numerous musicians, including popular artists such as Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead. In fact, fans of the latter may recognize the sound of the ondes Martenot from several of the band’s songs, including “How to Disappear Completely.” 

Commissioned by the Boston Symphony, Turangalîla is the second work in a trilogy Messiaen composed during the 1940s that was inspired by his fascination with the legend of Tristan and Isolde. That tale of two lovers trapped in a forbidden romance resonated with the composer, who was married at the time, but had fallen for one of his students, a young pianist named Yvonne Loriod.

The pair would maintain a platonic relationship for years, eventually marrying after the death of Messiaen’s first wife in 1959, but Loriod played a muse-like role in the genesis of Turangalîla, which has been interpreted as channeling the composer’s unfulfilled desire for her. Loriod performed the piano solo at the work’s 1949 premiere, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and would go on to become Messiaen’s primary interpreter of music for the piano.

Turangalîla incorporates an incredible range of musical ideas and sources throughout the monumental ten-movement score, and Messiaen’s fascination with birdsong and his synesthetic ability to perceive sounds as colors are both evident in the piece.

Tickets for Thibaudet Plays Turangalîla may be purchased:

Full program notes and artist bios, information on the ondes Martenot, a Spotify playlist and audio of Giancarlo Guerrero discussing the program, can be found at