Nov 14, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The San Francisco Symphony and Cartier are pleased to announce a multisensory performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, The Poem of Fire, March 1–3, 2024 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.
Devised by San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent, this collaboration marks the world premiere of an immersive presentation of Prometheus that combines a dynamic musical and light performance with olfactory curation.
In ancient Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from his fellow gods on Mount Olympus and gifted it to humankind, thereby endowing mortals with the technology vital for civilization. Scriabin’s 1910 tone poem, Prometheus, The Poem of Fire, captures the monumentality of this legend and its consequences for humanity. Scriabin envisioned a total, consuming work of art, one that encapsulated his own synesthetic leanings (he reportedly saw sound in color), ultimately subliming his audiences to another plane of consciousness.
“Scriabin scored Prometheus for light and color as well as music, but one of his dreams was to add more senses to the score, including scent. This idea has always fascinated me, as somebody who has always loved working together with artists from a variety of disciplines,” says Thibaudet. “I am excited that we now have the technology to bring Scriabin’s dream to life, and to be a part of this project with Esa-Pekka and Mathilde. This project shows us what is possible when there is collaboration within the arts: how different art forms and different senses can enrich one another, and in doing so enrich our lives and our experiences both inside and outside of the concert hall.”
As it was, the technology required to translate Scriabin’s total vision did not exist in his lifetime. In fact, the final version of Prometheus was scored only for music and “color organ,” an instrument he conceived of which projected light of different colors linked to harmonic changes in music. In the last century, the piece has been performed internationally with an array of lighting accompaniments, some of which came closer to Scriabin’s original intentions than others. The San Francisco Symphony performances of Prometheus aim to go further in realizing Scriabin’s vision of a truly synesthetic work of art. Scent accords created specifically for the performance by Laurent in close collaboration with Thibaudet and Salonen will be delivered during key moments of the performance using technology developed by Cartier and Desind, specialists in digital scent systems based in France.
Laurent states, “For Prometheus, my task was to ensure that the scent stirred a primary, universal, and instinctive emotion, far removed from any aesthetic aim. I wanted to bolster and consolidate the feelings instilled by music, by focusing – through olfaction – on the animal nature of every spectator, to get them to physically engage with the piece, without ever overshadowing it or competing with its aesthetics.”
“Prometheus stole fire from the gods, and in doing so kickstarted a millennia-long process of technological development that has led to the civilization we have today,” says Salonen. “Looking at where we've ended up, in terms of our environmental crises and the proliferation of weapons of war, that seems to have been a mixed blessing. But this project is optimistic: it shows that technology can be used for very noble purposes, for art and enhancing people's natural sensory experiences in this world. Prometheus paid dearly, but we don’t have to—it's up to us to decide.”
Paired with state-of-the-art lighting technology, which will illuminate the concert hall in vibrant colors aligned with Scriabin’s color organ, the performances aspire towards transcendence, stirring our collective memory as the mortal beneficiaries of Prometheus’ brazen generosity.
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Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Mathilde Laurent, and Esa-Pekka Salonen