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CLASSICAL  March 2006

CLASSICAL March 2006

Subject:

Re: Antheil's Ballet Mecanique - "Authentic" Performance!

From:

Deryk Barker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 14 Mar 2006 15:04:14 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (85 lines)

The fourth ever performance of the original version was performed here
in Victoria 5 years ago.

I've appended my review...

   What: Ballet mecanique [first 'e' in 'mecanique' acute throughout]
   Who: UVic Percussion Ensemble
   Robert Holliston, Milos Repicky, pianos
   Bill Linwood, director
   Where: University Centre Auditorium
   When: March 18, 2001

   By Deryk Barker
   Times Colonist staff

   The British comic genius Spike Milligan, creator of The Goon
   Show, once wanted a sound effect of a sockful of custard striking
   a wall. He asked the lady at the BBC canteen to make him a
   custard, which she did with great care, thinking that Milligan
   probably had a stomach complaint. When she finally handed him
   the fruits of her labours, he proceeded to remove one of his
   socks, fill it with custard, swing it around his head and strike
   it against the wall.

   Unfortunately a sockful of custard hitting a wall didn't *sound*
   like a sockful of custard hitting a wall. So there was Milligan,
   his sock full of custard and no sound effect to show for it.

   What, if anything, you may be asking, has this to do with the
   Canadian premiere of the original version of George Antheil's
   ballet mecanique?

   In a word: airplane propellers.  Actually, of course, that is
   two words - and my British-educated fingers desperately wanted
   to type "aeroplane" anyway.  But Antheil included parts for three
   of the beasts in the Ballet mecanique; presumably he intended
   them to sound like planes flying through the auditorium, but
   using the real thing could easily prove hazardous to the health
   of performers and audience alike: the whole point of the propeller,
   after all, is not to make a noise but to pull a great weight at
   high speed.  And even digitally-sampled propellers somehow failed
   to sound like the real thing.

   This miscalculation by the composer apart, Sunday's performance
   of the 1924 version of Antheil's notorious score was surely
   everything the composer could have wished for: gloriously noisy
   (although by the standards of rock concerts, not actually that
   loud), violent, brutal and unbelievably complex in places; yet
   there were also passages of wit, charm and even beauty. There
   were moments in the player-piano parts which seemed to anticipate
   Conlon Nancarrow's "Boogie-Woogie Suite" of some two decades
   later; there were other were it sounded as if a piano roll of
   Stravinsky's Rite of Spring had become stuck.

   Bill Linwood directed (perhaps co-ordinated would be le mot
   juste) a spectacular performance, which gripped the audience
   throughout its entire 30-minute span (no small feat). Even the
   human-playable parts looked to be of enormous difficulty and
   complexity: at times the hands of the percussionists were moving
   so fast they became blurs; and the four bass drummers provided
   a balletic aspect to the score I imagine few had anticipated:
   playing in unison, they also had to step up and turn their pages
   (at considerably more than arm's length) in unison, no easy task
   even at a less exacting tempo.

   In short, a triumph.

   Although the Antheil was undoubtedly the "main event", the
   opening half of the programme demonstrated the tremendous range
   of music for percussion ensemble. Varese's [first 'e' grave
   accent] Ionisation, written in 1931 still sounds intensely modern,
   although the fire sirens could perhaps have made a bit more of
   an impact.

   John Cage's rarely-heard Second Construction was also a delight;
   rhythmically vital, it clearly pointed the way to the prepared
   piano studies of a decade or so later.

   Takemitu's Rain Tree was all gentle, shimmering, shifting textures;
   at times so quiet it sounded as if the music was coming from
   outside the hall. A perfect opener, considering the all-out
   assault on the sense that was to come.

Deryk Barker
[log in to unmask]

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