See our full site

Why Birds Sing

Why Birds Sing

Messiaen Oiseaux exotiques
Brett Dean Pastoral Symphony
Ligeti Poème symphonique
Beethoven Symphony No. 6 in F major, ‘Pastoral’ (from memory)

Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano
Nicholas Collon conductor

‘A bird enjoys the note modulated by his own throat… he is able to choose among his notes the clearest, the purest, and the fullest… And it is in his search for beauty that the art of the bird touches us.’  
Jacques Delamain, Why Birds Sing

In April 1952, Olivier Messiaen was given the book Why Birds Sing by Jacques Delamain, inspiring in the influential French composer a lifelong obsession with birdsong.

In the latest instalment of Aurora’s Orchestral Theatre series at Southbank Centre, we explore the enduring artistic fascination of birdsong in an event which weaves together orchestral performance with animation, audio storytelling, birdsong recordings, and an installation of 1,000 origami cranes – inviting you to enter a multisensory symphonic world.

Perhaps the greatest musical representation of birdsong ever penned, Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques incorporates an astounding array of 47 species. Hear it performed in this concert by one of its greatest living interpreters, French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, making his debut appearance with the orchestra. Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony offers an ode to nature of different, darker kind – an elegiac meditation on the beauty of birdsong and its silencing by humankind, its virtuosic chamber orchestra score interwoven with recorded sounds both natural and man-made. 

The programme concludes with Beethoven’s own ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, with its irresistible representations of birds including the nightingale, cuckoo, and quail. Continuing Aurora’s adventures in memorised performance, the orchestra will perform the symphony entirely from memory — a direct, communicative performance style currently unique to Aurora amongst orchestras worldwide.


Why Birds Sing is part of The Orchestral Theatre: The Claus Moser Series at Southbank Centre. The series is generously supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (in memory of Sir Claus Moser), Cockayne – Grants for the Arts and The London Community Foundation, and the Hargreaves & Ball Trust.

For more about our memorised performance strand, please click here.