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Chamber Music & Orchestra

St. Louis Symphony

David Robertson, conductor
Deborah O'Grady, visuals, production, director/photographer
Peter Henderson, piano
Seth Reiser, lighting and scenic designer

January 31, 2016


Additional Performance:
St. Louis Symphony, Jan 29

Learn More >>

video: Photographer Deborah O'Grady in Her Studio

video: Meet David Robinson

Des canyons aux étoiles...*

With noted Messiaen interpreter David Robertson at the podium, the marvelous St. Louis Symphony brings new depths to Olivier Messiaen's majestic Des Canyons aux étoiles... (From the Canyons to the Stars) in its Berkeley debut. A tribute to the breathtaking beauty of Utah's southwestern canyon lands, the sublime evening-length work is paired with a new multimedia presentation featuring photography by Deborah O'Grady, co-commissioned by Cal Performances to celebrate the centenary of the National Park Service in 2016.

* Production commissioned by Cal Performances; Los Angeles Philharmonic; St. Louis Symphony; Washington Performing Arts; Sydney Symphony.

A Berkeley RADICAL programming initiative.
More information on Berkeley RADICAL >>

Related Events

Berkeley RADICAL Thematic Explorations: Aesthetic Responses to the Natural World/Soundscapes
Art inspired by the natural world is a particularly rich programmatic vein in the 2015-16 season, correlating to the centenary of the creation of the National Parks System. We explore artistic, spiritual, and creative responses to the natural world in twin symposia associated with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's production of Rice (Jan 23) and St Louis Symphony's performance of Messaien's Des canyons aux étoiles... ("From the Canyons to the Stars") with spectacular images by Deborah O'Grady (Jan 30). This exploration includes the eco ensemble's performance of Kaija Saariaho's Notes on Light (Oct 23), and the Kronos Quartet with Terry Riley's Sunrings (May 1).

Berkeley RADICAL Artistic Residencies and Public Events
Pre-performance talk
Sun, Jan 31, 2–230 pm
Pre-performance talk with photographer Deborah O'Grady and St. Louis Symphony Maestro David Robertson. Open to ticketholders of this performance only.

Open Master Class
Sat, Jan 30, 10–11:30 am
Hertz Hall
Maestro David Robertson coaches the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. The public is welcome to observe.

Teacher Workshop: Art Cycle: Nature Feeds Music Feeds Photos Feed Nature
With a look at the centenary of the National Parks System
Sat, Jan 9, 10 am–1 pm
Longfellow Middle School
Pre-registration required.

Symposium: Artists, Aesthetics and the Natural World [part 1]
Sat, Jan 30, 1–5 pm
David Brower Center
This is the second of two linked events on this topic. To find out more or attend both, look for the symposium associated with Cloud Gate Dance Theater's production of Rice on January 23 at the same location.

1:00–2:15 pmArtist talk with David Robertson and Deborah O’Grady moderated by Cal Performances' Director Matías Tarnopolsky

2:30–3:40 pmDes canyons aux étoiles...—The Natural World, Immensity and Wonder
Sabrina Klein, Cal Performances' Director of Artistic Literacy explores art and the natural world with Margaretta Lovell, History of Art, UC Berkeley; Kathryn Barush, Art History, Graduate School of Theology and Santa Clara University, and renowned choreographer Anna Halprin.

3:50–5 pmThe National Parks: Kindred Connections of the Natural World and Creativity
A conversation on the cultural connections between access to nature and creativity environmentalist Ken Brower, Will Rogers, Trust for Public Land, Caryl Hart, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Johnathan Logan Jr., Marin County Community Service District, and Rob Bailis, Associate Director, Cal Performances.


Cal Performances would like to acknowledge the thoughtful contributions to the content of this event by The David Brower Center, The Trust for Public Land, and the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources.

SchoolTime Performance: Excerpts from Messaien/Des Canyons aux Étoiles...
Mon, Feb 1, 11 am
Zellerbach Hall
Matinee performance for grades K-12. Pre-registration required

Major support for public programs provided by Bank of America.

Donor Event: Open Rehearsal with the St. Louis Symphony
January 31, 2016
(Donors of $225+)

Enjoy a truly special Sunday morning with an up close and personal experience with the St. Louis Symphony as Conductor David Robertson leads a rehearsal for their next performance.

Membership benefits like these are our way of thanking our supporters for their much needed contributions. To find out how you can become a Donor, please call 510.643.8783 or visit our Support section.

Program Notes

Program notes are available online approximately 1-2 days before the performance.


Photographer Deborah O'Grady in Her Studio
Landscape photographer Deborah O'Grady tells how she is creating a visual component for composer Olivier Messiaen's ode to natural beauty Des Canyons aux Étoiles. The work has been co-commissioned by Cal Performances and will be presented January 31, 2016.

Meet David Robinson
Conductor David Robinson in New York talks via Skype to Cal Performances' Executive and Artistic Director Matías Tarnopolsky at UC Berkeley about Messiaen's Des Canyons aux Étoiles.

Deborah O'Grady's Artistic Statement

When asked by the conductor David Robertson to create a work of photographic art to be viewed simultaneously with symphonic performances of this landmark musical composition, I accepted the commission with joy. What better assignment for a landscape photographer trained in music composition, than to meld together the visual and aural worlds inspired by the deserts and magnificent National Parks of the southwestern United States. It was a two-year journey for me to create a visual work of art structured on the musical score of Des Canyons. Responding to the scope and complexity of the music was a process of constant discovery and challenge. Messiaen's journey took place in 1972. Describing the enviable solitude of his time in Bryce Canyon, he says "For me, the good time is when I hear bird songs, which is to say the spring, a season that also makes it possible to avoid throngs of tourists. So we set off alone, my wife and I, in the canyon. It was marvelous, grandiose; we were immersed in total silence—not the slightest noise except for the bird songs."* Because Messiaen traveled to Bryce and Zion Canyons and Cedar Breaks National Monument in April, I chose that month for my most intensive work there. But the parks I visited in 2014 and 2015 provided a radical departure from Messaien's experiences. Crowded trails, gridlocked roads, hikers with boom boxes playing music into the canyons, and National Parks being marketed as grandiose amusement parks have altered the nature experience from one of solitude to one of necessary patient tolerance. Although there seem to be no humans in Messiaen's vision and experience of these canyons, my explorations were filled with human encounters and all that those encounters imply. This situation, coupled with a growing awareness of the ways in which human activity alters our environment, led me to a somewhat different interpretation of the movements of Des Canyons. Each movement is introduced in the score with a textual prologue, either Biblical or descriptive of the birdsong and compositional technique of the music. My interpretation aims to incorporate the recognition of the ecological crisis we face and the reality of human pressures on the environment, with my awe for the sheer beauty and magnificence of nature, from rocks and rivers to clouds and, of course, birds. Messiaen's vision of nature and the cosmos in Des Canyons is entirely optimistic. Even interpreting the writing on the wall of Belshazzar's feast, "mene, teqel, parsin,"wasseen by Messiaen as ultimately, or at least possibly, optimistic. For me, the writing on the wall IS the evidence of the ecological challenges we face, and this recognition emerges in my work. This production brings together imagery, both sacred and profane, from my travels, following Messiaen's path, absorbing his assigned meanings, assembled to work with the music organically. Seth Reiser's beautiful set and lighting design acknowledge Messiaen's synaesethetic color sensitivity, bringing the musicians of the orchestra into the stage picture. As Messiaen did on his travels to these magnificent places, look—but also listen. Let the music and images speak in concert, and take you from the canyons to the stars!

Deborah O'Grady, January 2016

* Conversation between Messiaen and Claude Samuel in Messiaen and Color.

Purchase Tickets

Sun, Jan 31, 3 pm