The avante-garde and complexity of George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique probably explains why it hasn’t been performed for a live audience since 2001 and why it’s only been performed a few times since its original composition in 1924.
Last Friday, the 13th, I heard it as presented by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. I wouldn’t describe it as music to my ears but I loved the privilege and experience it provided. At times I was uneasy with the “noise” of it; at times I found myself laughing out loud; and in the end, it brought me and the audience at Boston’s Jordan Hall to our feet. It was an amazing and amusing aural experience and a true ballet of mallets, musicians, and mechanical mayhem.
The 20-minute percussive composition features 16 player pianos synchronized by computer (which meant Antheil never heard the piece as he truly composed it), numerous xylophones, a suite of electric bells and sirens (displayed prominently at center stage) and a few random airplane propellers and engines.