July 2000
How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?
ADVENTURES IN ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST CONCERT SPACES

by PAUL D. LEHRMAN
ILLUSTRATION: JAMES YANG

The first weekend of April, no joke, I got to take part in a concert in one of the great performing spaces on Earth, New York's Carnegie Hall. I wasn't exactly performing, but I wasn't exactly crew either. Nor was I exactly conducting: The American Composers Orchestra, a group devoted to presenting large-scale works of 20th (and soon, presumably, 21st) century composers, had chosen to present the New York premiere of the new version of George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique, which I had helped prepare for publisher G. Schirmer. Although I had done my best to make the piece playable by any ambitious performing group, the ACO still wanted my help. So I had the distinct pleasure of sitting on the stage and overseeing a computer, a bunch of mechanical pianos, and an ensemble of amazing musicians raise the roof in one of the loudest "classical" pieces those walls had ever contained.

Now, I know some of you are probably sick of me writing about this project (I talked about it in the March "Insider Audio," which is available here, and also at great length in an upcoming article in Electronic Musician), and I have promised many people (like my editors) that I will soon shut up on the subject and get on with my life. But the story of what happened at Carnegie Hall is simply too good, and too relevant to Mix readers, to let pass. So indulge me one more time.

As you may recall, the piece calls for seven or eight percussionists, two pianists, four to 16 player pianos (in this concert, the parts were handled by eight Yamaha Disklaviers--which were plenty loud), seven bells, a siren and three airplane propellers. A computer running a MIDI sequencer controls the player pianos, and at the same time, triggers the sound effects, and also cues the conductor through a fiendishly complicated click track. At the school where I was teaching last fall, a student ensemble premiered the piece, and it was a tremendously exciting event. After that initial "shakedown" performance (and recording, which is now available on CD from the Electronic Music Foundation at www.cdemusic.org), the piece was ready to send out to the real world. The ACO was the first group to take up the challenge. The ensemble handled it beautifully--but letting my baby take its first steps, without me holding both its hands, turned out to have some interesting problems.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman