A Charles Ives for New Jersey
Mechanical clock music and orchestra
Saturday, May 12, 2007
By A. Michael Noll

Classical New Jersey Society

Colonial Symphony Orchestra: Paul Hostetter (conductor). Wagner: Siegfried Idyll; Lowrey: Orchestrophonia (premiere); Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor. Community Theatre, Morristown , NJ .

The Morris Museum has recently acquired the Murtogh D. Guiness Collection of nearly 700 mechanical musical instruments (music boxes, mechanical automata, etc.). This unusual world-class collection was the impetus behind the commission and premier of Norman Lowrey's Orchestrophonia - in effect, a concerto for mechanical instruments and orchestra. The mechanicals at the Museum were recorded earlier and edited, but in the live performance the orchestra and the recorded sounds of the mechanicals became an interwoven seamless whole. Past attempts at integrating an orchestra with recorded sound have been disappointing to me, but Lowrey is so skillful as a composer familiar with integrating recorded and live music that the two became a whole, with the mechanicals setting the tone and beat for the orchestra.

The eight movements of Orchestrophonia flowed one into the other, with some being introduced by the sound of an automaton being wound up. Music boxes, fair organs, and other mechanicals were all featured and credited in the program.

The dissonances and cacophony of sounds were glorious fun! Clearly, in this piece, Lowrey is New Jersey 's Charles Ives. There was even a video of the various mechanicals projected behind the orchestra - and it, too, added positively to the experience. My only complaint is that Orchestrophonia ended too soon — I wanted more!

The pre-concert lecture by conductor Paul Hostetter included an interview with Steven Miller, the Executive director of the Morris Museum . It was an illuminating description of the Guiness Collection and also of how Norman Lowrey recorded the mechanicals for his composition. Lowrey is Chair of the Music Department at Drew University .

The concert began with a warm performance of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and ended with a spirited rendition of the all too familiar Beethoven Fifth. Under Hostetter's direction, with a somewhat smaller orchestra than usual, this Fifth illuminated the clarity of Beethoven's genius - particularly the vivid crispness of the timpani which underpinned much of the work.