Culture & Conversation

Dear Prometheus

What have you done for us lately? I’ve been thinking about you since I was at your hearing last week, at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Perhaps you were watching from on high? Or from on not-so-high, I guess. Still stapled to that rock, eh?

With actor Michel Dumont, as the gods’ prosecutor, ably channelling a translation of Yann Martel’s commissioned libretto The Parole Hearing of Prometheus to excerpts from Beethoven’s ballet about your famous theft, and Kent Nagano, looking quite the sorcerer’s apprentice in a lawyer’s robe . . . The audience was pulling for you, dude, we really were, but then that was the mood – the Habs were winning, and we were all riled up after a week of solid Beethoven.

The OSM did the gamut, from the first to the ninth symphonies, plus his Triple Concerto, and a couple of encores to boot. Nagano has been called the orchestra’s advocate, not its master, and it’s true: besides a shaky first night to this Beethoven Festival, with a split orchestra and seemingly tired chef, the OSM showed that it has at its helm a man who calls them, in the true, Latin, sense of the word advocate. You didn’t steal language for us, my friend, and really, you didn’t have to steal music – see what a few humans can do? Try to come down to the Place des Arts some night, if you can shake off your eagle – maybe flip him the bird!

The Andante molto mosso from the Pastorale was sensuous, penetrating; the taxing Third Symphony was heroically rendered indeed; and the Seventh – well, that one ought to be good, since the orchestra’s played it so many times, you’d think they were chained to a rock . . . Sorry. Pas pire, though, as we say down here. And Menahem Pressler, the – get this! – 86-year-old founding pianist of the recently resuscitated Beaux Arts Trio, who delivered the Triple Concerto as part inside joke, part lullaby . . . Theodore Baskin, the principal oboe, flautist Carolyn Christie . . . The gin-clear powerhouse of the strings, which even the clunker of a hall can’t quell! And you – Prometheus, we seldom hear more of Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus than the overture, but the orchestra elicited a few tears on your behalf with the controlled swells of the Adagio. Apollo has nothing on us, my friend.

The OSM has commissioned libretti before – we had Colm Feore, a nice piece of human, as Roméo Dallaire three years ago – and this time again, the collaboration was a popular success, despite the gods’ doom-and-gloom insinuation, via Martel, that you had not lived up to your name in procuring the lowly “clay figurines” with fire. From fire we’ve warmed the planet, you see: melting icecaps, “le barbecue que cette planète est devenue,” weeping Demeter, and so forth. A bit facile, if you ask me.

We know you’re still there, hen-pecked all day – it wouldn’t do to let go our “match-thief,” any more than it would to let go of Beethoven, whose symphonies we continue to press up against, as listeners or as interpreters, and come away feeling that perhaps it is us who left a mark. So we listen, in his Freude and his Leiden for the measure of our own; we think of your suffering as exhortation to make good our gifts. It’s hard to be you, I know, man. My liver hurts sometimes too.


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