Listeners in the Berkshires of Massachusetts had the chance to hear a masterwork by Edgar Varese twice in the span of 24 hours. Octandre, Varese’s 1923 chamber composition, popped up on the evening program of the Bang on a Can Summer Festival Marathon at MASS MoCA in North Adams, and then again the next morning at a Tanglewood Music Center concert in nearby Lenox.
Brad Lubman, who conducted the performance at the annual Bang on a Can Summer Festival (aka “Banglewood”), and who presided over a performance of the composer’s Integrales at Tanglewood some 17 years before, suggested in his remarks (perhaps with a touch of irony) that the piece has become a repertoire staple. I can’t recall having heard the piece on any elevators or L’Oreal commercials, so I can say I appreciated the opportunity to give Octandre a second listen after just one night’s sleep.
Without belaboring comparison, I thought the Bang on a Can performance delivered the convulsive impact and colors of Octandre’s block chords particularly persuasively, while the other, conducted by Ken-David Masur, more convincingly conveyed the composition’s lyrical elements. Repertoire staple or not, it’s a good thing (as one of my neighbors would say) to hear a central work of a composer whose influence on generations of musicians and compositions in many genres cannot be questioned.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hit the repeat button on Coltrane’s Ascension.