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.
Eight player pianos, two grand pianos, four bass drums, four xylophones, an air-raid siren, and a gamelan that weighs nearly a ton - that’s just some of the equipment that the Boston Modern Orchestra Project will have on the Jordan Hall stage for “Big Bang,” tonight’s percussion-heavy season-opening concert.
It’s a bang big enough to cause some logistical headaches, says BMOP’s music director, Gil Rose.
“My orchestra manager decided she won’t kill me, but there has been some discussion of it,” he says, sounding not entirely unserious.
This performance earns a near perfect score for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) It’s not often that we hear George Antheil’s notorious Ballet Mécanique, partly because it is scored for sixteen synchronized player pianos. Back when Antheil wrote it, there was no way these speedy automatons could be synchronized; but now, in the electronic age, they can be. And they were. While this performance featured only eight player pianos, they effectively produced the intense sound Antheil could only dream about.
BMInt interviewed Paul D. Lehrman, composer, author, consultant, educator, one of the world’s leading experts on MIDI, computer music and expert on George Antheil, whose Ballet mécanique will be performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project on November 13th at Jordan Hall.
George Antheil is infamous as a “bad boy” composer. Is his Ballet mécanique music? Should we bring ear plugs?
Composer Louis Andriessen turns seventy this year. In a disc celebrating the composer’s septuagenarian status with a quartet of recent works, the Boston Modern Orchestra project, conducted by Gil Rose, suggests that several through-lines between established tendencies and new collaborators have kept the Dutch composer’s work fresh, vibrant, and engaging.
These works were composed over a span of 30 years from 1976 to 2007; 3 of them (Nos. III, V, and VI) were revised (with one, No. III, now with the subtitle “Another View,” having been essentially completely reconstructed) for the performances and subsequent recording by BMOP over the past 2 years. The result is a set of very compelling eclectic pieces that make for enjoyable repeated listening.
Cristina Zavalloni is a mezzo with backgrounds in both jazz and classical music, whose work is particularly beloved of Louis Andriessen. She is the main protagonist for three of the four works here.
The music of Louis Andriessen (b. 1939) becomes ever more fascinating as he grows older. A contemporary of Glass and Reich, he hit the big time in 1976 with De Staat, a wild, aggressive choral-instrumental minimalist masterpiece. Always an original (“I like the impossible, to put myself in a difficult situation. I see composing as an experiment.”), he produced a few noisy loudnesses along the way. I remember a large-ensemble piece at Tanglewood with, I think, eight double-bass clarinets growling and clattering away.
In his book The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross calls Louis Andriessen “the only major European minimalist.” You wouldn’t know that from the four works on this disc. True, there’s repetition, but not in the Glass/Riley/Reich sense of the word. Scored for percussion and three keyboards, the opening work, Bells for Haarlem, is built from long sustained chords that strike at unpredictable intervals, with a subtle melody taking shape as the piece progresses.
The classical CD world may be down, but it’s not out. To a great extent, recording companies are recycling older material, yet there is a lot of good, new stuff out. Here are a few that captured my attention.
La Passione and other works by Louis Andriessen, with Gil Rose conducting the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
Andriessen is a Dutch minimalist whose many compositions include stage and dance works. His style borrows from Stravinsky, jazz, and American minimalism and especially Terry Riley. His music is anti-German and anti-romantic.
The long-awaited CD of all Maine composer Elliott Schwartz’s chamber concertos has finally been released by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP/sound, 1013) and it lives up to expectations. Conductor Gil Rose and his orchestra are among the foremost interpreters of modern music, and their performances of these six works, from 1976 to 2007, with the composer’s input, can be considered definitive.
After a 43 year stint at the College, former Robert K. Beckwith Professor of Music Eliott Schwartz has one more accomplishment to add to his list: the recent release of an album featuring six chamber concertos of his own composition.
The album is titled Elliot Schwartz: Chamber Concertos and will be released through the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) label this month.
Schwartz, an internationally regarded composer, retired from Bowdoin’s faculty in 2007, with 12 of his 43 years in the music department spent as department chair.
Composer David Rakowski’s jocularity is well known. His many piano etudes (88 at last count) feature a number of sly allusions to other styles and works, as well as more overt zaniness; one even requires the performer to play pitches with their nose! His previous concerti have featured various subterfuges in which the soloist is upstaged by the orchestra. And, famously, goofiness abounds on his website. But alongside Rakowski’s penchant for light-hearted expression are consummate craftsmanship and music of considerable poignancy.
Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is known for his eclectic, experimental style. This collection - released to mark his 70th birthday, features two of his muses, Italian jazz and new music singer Cristina Zavalloni and American violinist Monica Germino.
While the recent passing of Lukas Foss (1922-2009) strikes a sad note for many of us, the release of this superb recording of The Prairie serves to both celebrate and elucidate his unique genius and extraordinary life. Born Lukas Fuchs in Berlin, Germany, Foss received his early training as a pianist and composer with Julius Goldstein (who, upon emigrating to the United States, changed his last name to Herford and ultimately became one of the most significant teachers of conducting and score study in American history).
As clarinetist and composer alike, Derek Bermel is a product of the contemporary accessibility of, and fascination with, the diverse musics of the world. Gone are the days when the Austro-Hungarian, or even the wider European, traditions could constitute any kind of workable definition of ‘serious’ music. Just as, once upon a time, European literature woke up to – and creatively embraced – literatures far beyond the previously monolithic Latin and Greek tradition, so Western music has widened its horizons enormously.
“My purpose is to eliminate purpose.”
There are marvelous ideas in David Rakowski’s music. At the very end of the slow movement of his Piano Concerto (2006), for instance, the soloist suddenly switches to a toy piano to play a flourish that’s at once otherworldly and mischievous. Similarly, the jazzy syncopations and riffs in the movement that follows convey simultaneous feelings of playful spontaneity and lurking menace.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project had a good idea last weekend. They paired with the Florestan Project, a superb vocal group, to present three days of concerts named “Voice of America” at Tufts University’s Distler Performance Hall. Florestan presented the complete songs of Samuel Barber, some 75 in number. The Sunday afternoon concert I attended then featured a chamber-music-sized BMOP with concerted songs of Samuel Barber and Virgil Thomson. Florestan and BMOP together offered a sublime tribute to the voice.
I’ve been slow to post my thoughts on the second half of the “Voice of America” concert I heard last Friday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. Indeed, this was probably the most rewarding Boston Modern Orchestra Project concert I’ve yet heard. Although I confess I don’t often hear this group; to me, there’s sometimes a problem built right into their concerts - they’re funded by the composers being played. I don’t mean to criticize this as a way of getting new music out before the public, and to be honest, what I’ve heard at BMOP has always been highly accomplished.