MP3 Blog #103: “Amériques”

Edgard Varèse: Amériques (1918-1921)

For large orchestra

Conducted by Riccardo Chailly with the Royal Concertebouw Orchestra

Available for purchase on the generally quite good complete works of Varese collection.

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Two impressions on the original version of Amériques for large orchestra (see this link for details on the orchestra):

1.

The first time I heard Amériques was at the benefit concert for the 2002 Aspen Music Festival.  (At the time, I was at the Aspen Music Festival to study piano for the entire Summer.)  On the first half of this concert, Joshua Bell was the featured soloist for the Beethoven Violin Concerto.  For the second half of the concert, after a lengthy and – for my personal tastes – entirely useless discussion of upcoming work, was the original version of Varèse’s Ameriques. Once the performance of the Varèse finally started, the audience sat quietly for the first five minutes or so.  Soon after that, while I was enthralled with the music, a steady stream of people continued to leave the concert hall until, at the end of the performance, only half of the previously sold-out crowd remained to applaud the one of the most tremendous and catastrophic finales in the orchestral repertoire.

2.

When listening to this piece for the first time in a few years earlier last week I closed my eyes.  During the moment when the whole orchestra comes together to pulsate strong attacks that a siren responds to, I had a visual hallucination.  In this vision I saw a mammoth dark mesa rising above a series of tubular shaped fragments that all ran into a ocean of black water.  Each time time the orchestra built in intensity I saw this imagine structure pulsate in both size and brightness.  Specifically, when the dynamic became large the structure grew in size and brightness, when it faded in dynamics it grew smaller.  The siren, in contrast, had no effect on the image.

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