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MMD > Archives > December 1999 > 1999.12.04 > 05Prev  Next

"Ballet Mecanique" Disklavier Concert
By Douglas Henderson

Hello MMD readers,  Since many of my friends and customers have not
yet joined the Internet, there was a period after reviewing 11-18-99
concert in Lowell, Mass., when I printed the MMD text and sent it by
postal mail to any number of people.  One of the recipients was piano
technician Wade C. Johnson, who, after reading my printout, wrote the
following lines:

> Why Yamaha used _any_ console Disklaviers, let alone 16, for that
> performance is beyond me.  That's the poorest and least advanced
> Disklavier in existence, as far as I know, inferior even to the
> other first- and second-generation upright and grand Disklaviers,
> let alone the latest "Pro" Disklavier re-engineered with the help
> of Wayne Stahnke.

Of course, I know very little about the differences between these MIDI
players, except that the "Pro model" is being advertised in the trade
audio magazines, received here, with suggestions that studio recording
sessions 'record-the-pianist-on-solenoids' and use that material for
the final master tape.

(While I've never heard a "Pro" Disklavier, the idea of substituting
human fingers for electromagnets seems like a stupid idea, if perform-
ance authenticity and finesse is to be achieved.  I, myself, have been
duped on several occasions by purchasing audio cassettes in the name
of ragtime pianists, only to discover later on that the artist was not
losing his/her talent, but that solenoids had replaced their fingers,
but the publisher never stated this fact on the liner notes.  One very
talented artist, specializing in Gottschalk music, told me at a recent
concert in Maine, "Never again, with the Disklavier!")

Anyway, it appears that perhaps two to four Disklavier "Pro" models
should have been used for Ballet Mecanique in Lowell, Mass., instead
of 16 'hardly playing' ones. (After the concert, a noted roll collector
tried one of the Yamaha consoles, only to discover that they had
'musical power' and 'sonority' as keyboard pianos, something lacking
when MIDI was running the solenoid actions.)

This brings me back to my initial concern about the number of pianos on
the stage for that presentation.  The audience could see only eight of
them, but presumably the other eight were tweedling their keys  (and
breaking chords which were supposed to strike in unison) in the second
row behind the illuminated first tier of instruments.

George Antheil, when writing in 1945 about the Baldwin-sponsored
Carnegie Hall concert in 1927, said the following in chapter 19:

"The illogical idea that the more pianos the merrier ...  the concert
should be really visual since they were in the business to sell pianos
... our grand pianos looked very nice on the Carnegie Hall stage."

Repeatedly the author uses the term "shiny piano" for Pleyel and/or
Baldwin, which I take to be a non-complimentary remark about 'marketing
schemes'.  Earlier in his autobiography, he wrote positively about the
Steinway, saying that he preferred it to the Bluethner and the

I took the idea of 16 Disklaviers on the stage at Durgin Hall to be
"for show", as the Baldwins (along with the prop aeroplane propellers)
were in 1927.

It's too bad that the clock can't be turned back to repeat the Antheil
music with the following changes: (a) less Disklaviers and only the
"Pro" line, plus (b) the solenoid players in the front of the stage
with the percussionists in the back, so that the keyboard music would
predominate at all times.

Until another orchestral version is attempted, and I'm certain that
more will be given in the near future, I do believe that the Maurice
Peress CD (Musical Heritage Society #513891L), with talented human
fingers at pianofortes carrying the load, will be the definitive audio
recording for me. (Note: this CD also appears under the Music Masters
label, if memory serves me correctly.  MHS has tandem releases for club
members and retail record stores.)

I'm certain that the musical results would have been improved by less
instruments "for show" (or the 'number count') and a few of the "Pro"
solenoid players mentioned above being substituted.      That axiom
"Less is More" still holds true, for me, when it comes to that Antheil

Regards from Maine,
Douglas Henderson
Artcraft Music Rolls

PS: Here's a new URL on our site for the Christmas 'rush':

(Message sent Sat 4 Dec 1999, 23:11:11 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ballet, Concert, Disklavier, Mecanique

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