Comments from ACO's April 2, 2000
The last concert of ACO's 1999-2000 season celebrated two musical
giants of the 20th Century, Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions, and the
landmark new music series these two composers jointly presented from
1928-1931. Those concerts introduced many of the then new generation
of American composers, such as George Antheil, Virgil Thomson, Paul
Bowles, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford, Walter Piston, Carlos Chavez,
and Roy Harris. The concert included Copland's
famously difficult Short Symphony, and Roger
Sessions's Symphony No. 3. The program also included the world
premiere of a new realization of George Antheil's Ballet
Mécanique, a notorious work that was scored for
electronic player pianos and percussion, including airplane
propellers, sirens and fire bells. In the spirit of the
Copland-Sessions concerts, the program also included a new work by a
young composer: Jennifer Higdon's Fanfare
Aaron Copland: Short Symphony
Roger Sessions: Symphony No. 3
The historical and retrospective nature of the concert elicited many
comments about and comparisons between the music of Sessions and
Copland, and the change in listeners' perceptions from the beginning
of the 20th century to the present day.
"How fresh and zingy Copland's Short Symphony sounds,
despite the fact that his idiom and music has been
with us for most of the 20th Century"
"Now that we're in the 21st Century,
20th Century music is finally being accepted."
"As the twelve-tone system fades from the musical landscape
as the dominant force in music schools and the concert halls,
a lot of Session's fades, Copland, conversely becomes more popular."
"People accept dissonance more readily today,
as we're exposed to a wider variety of sounds."
"In general, I think public perception of 20th Century music
is unfairly and ignorantly pejorative."
"Copland and Sessions have become background music.
Antheil seems fresher, more vibrant and less radical.
Machine age fitting for a society, assures us its industrial
heritage in the age of smart machines."
George Antheil: Ballet Mécanique
73 years after the notorious premiere of Ballet Mécanique at
Carnegie Hall, this controversial piece divides audiences. This
performance was billed as a world premiere of a reconstruction of the
original Ballet Mécanique that Antheil was never able
to realize. Originally, Antheil scored the work for multiple
synchronized player pianos and percussion. Unfortunately, the
technology of player pianos in the 1920s did not allow for accurate
synchronization, and Antheil resorted to live pianists. Using Yamaha
Disklaviers (hybrid electronic-acoustic pianos) composer and
electronic music specialist Paul Lehrman brought the new realization
to life. Here are some audience comments that illustrate the
"love/hate" relationship with the Ballet Mécanique:
"The Antheil piece had the most impact, since it confronts
and explores modernity and technology in a truly avant-garde manner."
"Too long and the siren gave me a headache"
"It was not as loud or radical as I anticipated.
I suppose for 1925 it was cutting edge, but for 2000,
I expect it to be performed more."
"It was more modern than the Rite of Spring,
but was by default dated because it took so long to be recognized."
"The first number by Antheil was painful.
It gave me a headache, earache, and made my blood pressure go up.
During the pauses, the only thing I could think was
'Thank you Jesus for the quiet'"
"I was surprised that the Antheil was boring.
It was loud all the time and the dependence on a click
track and computer driven instruments left no room for
creative or expressive moments on the part of the conductor,
who ended up being a traffic cop."
"The Antheil piece was worse than I imagined."
"I was surprised by how much presence the player pianos had,
despite the lack of live players."
Jennifer Higdon: Fanfare Ritmico (New
York Premiere. Commissioned by The Women's Philharmonic in
cooperation with ACO.)
Jennifer Higdon, a Philadelphia-based composer delivered an up-tempo
rhythmic fanfare that received universally positive response from the audience:
"What a dynamic woman! Her piece was superb"
"The Higdon surprised me. She was unknown to me and then
to find her work so brilliant, lively varied and rich,
after the pale Copland, what a wonderful sense of elation it gave me."
"Higdon's piece was breathtaking-combination of
'modern' but not 'in your face"
"Higdon was rich and exciting."
"The Higdon premiere was terrific-rhythmic but not overpowering"