Thursday, June 22, 2000


UMass-Lowell Percussion Ensemble
George Antheil: Ballet mechanique

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff

Last year Paul D. Lehrman of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, produced the world premiere of the original version of one of the 20th-century's most notorious pieces, George Antheil's "Ballet mechanique." Antheil, the self-styled ``bad boy of music,'' was well ahead of his time; in 1924, he scored the ``Ballet mechanique'' for four groups of player pianos. Performance proved impossible because of the difficulty of synchronizing the mechanical instruments. Computer technology and the Yamaha Disklavier now make it possible to realize Antheil's original conception — at a concert in Lowell last season 16 player pianos, along with two pianists and eight percussionists handling the xylophones, the airplane propellers, the siren, and the electric bell, performed the work before taking it on tour and recording it.

``Ballet mechanique,'' as we know from other performances of Antheil's revised versions, is more outrageously entertaining than outrageous. The recording contains several other pieces for percussion, including the extraordinary ``Double Music'' by John Cage and Lou Harrison; two lively Cuban pieces from the 1930s by Amadeo Roldon; and two entertaining works for player-piano ensemble by Richard Grayson — not to mention a delirious performance of the finale from Mendelssohn's ``Italian'' Symphony played in an arrangement by Lehrman for 16 player-pianos.

Jeffrey Fischer is the shipshape conductor and the pianists are Juanita Tsu and John McDonald. This disc is certain to become a party record for technophiles, but just about everyone else will have fun too.

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