Confessions of a Teenage ‘Metro Gnome’

György Ligeti’s fluxus score to ‘Poème Symphonique’ spends little time discussing the performance of the work itself. Instead, he addresses a more pressing matter: acquiring 100 metronomes. Music stores, newspaper advertisements, and Maecenas are some of the sources that Ligeti encourages to bribe with program note recognition etc. If a rich patron were to simply buy Ligeti 100 metronomes, the piece would be “dedicated to him alone.”

When Artistic Director Tom Morris pitched the project to me in 2007, he lowered the cone of silence. “We’ve located the metronomes, but now I need you to assemble a team to set them off at the opening night concert.” Six cardboard boxes of time-keeping devices had just arrived from a performance of ‘Poème Symphonique’ in Austin, Texas. We were armed and ready.

Ten tables with ten metronomes each ringed the bowl at the opening night concert. Pianists Amy Williams and Helena Bugallo gave the signal to my team and the clicking commenced. While the sound of one metronome is regular and percussive, multiplied one hundred times, the result is quite different—imagine rain on a tin roof. But one by one, the upward pendulums froze until the heroic last stand of the final metronome. Beats away from death, the wooden pyramid hypnotized the audience. A long pause was observed when the last click sounded.

View Ligeti’s score here.

Albert Behar is a composer and past intern at the Ojai Music Festival. He is currently running around Paris with an accordion in search of jazz manouche. To find out more about his French alter-ego visit: