Commissioned to mark the 1976 bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence, From the Canyons to the Stars … was premiered two years earlier than that, in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City. In preparation Messiaen had visited Utah and then invested the locale’s birdsong and landscape (including Bryce Canyon) into the music, scored for thirteen strings, fourteen woodwinds, eight brass and plentiful percussion (including wind machine and thunder sheet for naturalistic effects), plus solo or highlighted spots for piano (here Jason Hardink), horn (Stefan Dohr, guesting from the Berliner Philharmoniker), xylorimba (Keith Carrick) and glockenspiel (Eric Hopkins), with all other Utah Symphony personnel credited.
This is music that only Messiaen could have written—a slightly backhanded compliment given some of it is too recognisable of earlier works (such as Turangalîla and Chronochromie), and not just the birdsong element about which he had already composed an extensive for-piano Catalogue. That said, there are new features and the whole of Canyons/Stars passes the time engagingly with music that is evocative, powerful, poignantly expressive, quirky, and scenically awestruck, and always colourful.
In this Utah account, the twelve-movement Canyons lasts ninety-two minutes (at the quicker end of this opus’s scale) and comes across as well-paced, presciently prepared and committedly performed. Good sound, too; vivid and transparent.