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MMD > Archives > December 1999 > 1999.12.08 > 05Prev  Next

"Ballet Mecanique" Disklavier Concert
By Paul Lehrman, forwarded

-- forwarded message, please reply to sender and MMD --

 [ Originally sent 3 Dec. 1999 but overlooked.  My apologies to
 [ Paul and MMD that this letter is delayed.  -- Robbie

Response to Mark Lutton

As you probably know, our concert premiering the 1924 version for
multiple player pianos and percussion of George Antheil's Ballet
Mecanique in Lowell, MA, on November 18, was a stunning success.  We
sold out a 1000-seat hall with 200 people on a waiting list, and as
many as 5000 more people, from California to Italy, tuned into the
webcast.  We were reviewed in the Boston Globe and the San Francisco
Bay Guardian, and were the subject of major pieces on NPR's "All
Things Considered", CBC Radio's "As It Happens", and WGBH-TV's
"Greater Boston".

It was quite a night, and I am grateful to all of the people who helped
make it happen: the student and faculty performers, the stage crew,
the engineers, the cameramen, Dr. Richard Grayson, Dr. Juergen Hocker,
and everyone else who gave so willingly of their time and efforts.
It was strictly a volunteer undertaking -- no one got paid -- which
in some ways makes it even more gratifying.

I have been reading Doug Henderson's and Mark Lutton's reviews with
great interest, and I thank them for taking the time to write and
post them.  They certainly do provide food for thought, not only for
readers of this digest and for me, but also for others who are
interested in the work of Antheil.  I have placed a link to Mark's
review on my web site,   Links to the other
reviews, and some audio clips of interest, are there as well, so I
hope you'll pay it a visit.

I'd like to respond here to some of the issues that Mark brings up in
his insightful and thoughtful review.  Mark is one of the pioneers of
MIDI -- he was once referred, if I remember correctly, "THE 'Mark' of
the Unicorn" -- and I respect his opinions greatly.  I was very glad
to find out he was at the concert.  He writes:

> The MIDI standard leaves it completely up to the manufacturer as
> to the mapping of key velocity data to actual key velocity; the
> relationship doesn't even have to be linear.  The pianos damped
> down the accents; I guess this is an intentional design feature
> lest the restaurant patrons get startled and spill their drinks.

In fact, I damped down the highest velocity values in the sequence,
not out of fear of startling the audience, but out of fear of break-
ing the hammers.  I had a lot of time to experiment with George
Litterst's Disklavier grand in the months before the concert, and get
a pretty good idea of how far I could push it.  I did not have much
time at all, however, with the uprights that we had for the concert,
and I felt that there was some danger in making them play too hard.
This may not have been justified, but since I was responsible for the
health and welfare of the pianos, I didn't want to take any chances.

> I question the decision to use two electronic pianos for the live
> pianists.  One concert grand piano (never mind two) would have drowned
> out all 16 Disklaviers.  But the stage was too small for two more
> full-sized instruments, not to mention the logistics of getting them
> on and off the stage.

Actually, we tried it at one rehearsal with two grand pianos, and it
was hopeless.  We took our cue from Juergen Hocker's performances in
Europe earlier this year, which used only two player pianos (albeit
concert grands), and required six human pianists to cover the two
parts loudly enough to be heard.  We decided we could either mic the
grand pianos, which would have added another layer of complexity to
everything, or simply bypass the problem by using MIDI piano modules.
For reasons of practicality (and Mark's assumptions about the
logistical problems are entirely correct), we chose the latter.

> Lehrman, the Yoda of MIDI and a quick student of player pianos,
> worked long and hard on the sequences and is to be commended for
> getting the results as well as he did.  (I don't know if Dr. Hocker's
> MIDI files were available but they probably would not have been
> suitable, having been optimized for pneumatic pianos.)

Thank you for that appellation, although I'm not sure what it means. :-)
I hope it's not any kind of reference to my hairstyle.  In any case,
Dr. Hocker's work and mine in fact proceeded in parallel, and we were
actually unaware of each other's efforts until we were both almost done.
I would have liked to know what he was doing, and he I -- we certainly
could have shared resources, although our final products would of
necessity been quite different.

Best regards,

Paul Lehrman

PS: In response to Mr. Henderson's post of 12/04/99, in which he says:

> 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.

My response:

There were no consoles on the stage at Lowell.  I am sorry this myth was
originated and has been spread by Mr. Henderson, and I would appreciate
it if it would stop here -- an e-mailed correction to Mr. Henderson's
recipient list might be in order.  The acoustic pianos on the stage
were Yamaha MX100s and MX100XGs, which are upright pianos, and which
were all upgraded with the latest firmware the day before the concert.

Paul Lehrman

 [ So what's the difference between a Yamaha console and
 [ a Yamaha upright Disklavier?  In both styles, isn't
 [ the piano action entirely above the keys?  -- Robbie

(Message sent Wed 8 Dec 1999, 15:53:25 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

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

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