The New York Times
"A Musical Maverick Rooted in Trenton"
March 16, 2003, Sunday
NEW JERSEY WEEKLY DESK
By BRIAN WISE (NYT)
ONE of the great curiosities of 20th-century music is ''Ballet mécanique,''
a 25-minute percussion-and-piano extravaganza featuring 16 player pianos, electric
bells, airplane propellers, an alarm clock and a siren, by Trenton-born composer
George Antheil (1900-59). Composed from 1923 to 1925, the work is a clangorous
ode to the dawn of the mechanized age, with its pounding rhythms and industrial-level
The piece created such a stir at its premiere in Paris in 1926 that it established
Antheil as a maverick and has overshadowed the accomplishments of his eclectic
career, which included a dozen serious keyboard works, a few Romantic symphonies,
ballet music, chamber works, jazz songs, film scores and at least one opera.
Over the past decade, Antheil's life and work have been the subject of a growing
body of scholarship. This Friday through Sunday, at the Conduit arts complex
in Trenton, and at various sites around the city, the Composers Guild of New
Jersey will sponsor a festival and symposium dedicated to Antheil and his present-day
The festival brings together a wide array of performers and scholars for concerts,
discussions, lectures, film screenings and even a techno dance party at Trenton's
Conduit Nightclub, featuring remixes of ''Ballet mécanique.'' Performers
will include Guy Livingston, a pianist who is director of the festival, and
the College of New Jersey Percussion Ensemble. Also present will be a number
of historians, authors, representatives of Antheil's estate and his nephew,
Arthur Antheil McTighe.
Antheil, who took up the piano as a child, left Trenton for Berlin at age 22.
There, he quickly made a splash as a pianist with performances of modern pieces
in a signature aggressive style that often provoked physical reactions from
the audience. His concerts frequently included his own syncopated and dissonant
Antheil moved on to Paris in 1923, where he mingled with James Joyce, Ezra
Pound, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Igor Stravinsky, among
other famous artists of the time. At one point, he lived in an apartment above
Shakespeare & Company, the bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach, who the original
publisher of Joyce's ''Ulysses.''
Suddenly, though, he abandoned this life, returning to the United States, and
adopted a neo-classical style in his work. By the late 1930's, he settled in
Hollywood where he became a prolific movie composer, a career move that destroyed
his credibility among supporters of serious music.
''He never quite managed to make it,'' said Mr. Livingston, 34, who helped
catalog Antheil's manuscripts for the New York Public Library and has recorded
Antheil's piano sonatas and performed several recitals of his music, including
a program last year program at Princeton University's Taplin Auditorium. ''The
'Ballet mécanique' was the high point of his career. He's been viewed
as a footnote in 20th-century music.''
Mr. Livingston said Antheil's seemingly random stylistic leaps did little to
help his reputation. This view is shared by Frank J. Oteri, a New York-based
composer and editor of www.newmusicbox.org, a Web site devoted to contemporary
American music, who will moderate a discussion on ''Futurism vs. Neo-Romanticism
in Antheil's Music'' at the festival.
''Antheil was a polystylist who in later years wrote very accessible music
that probably hurt his reputation as a maverick,'' he said. Mr. Oteri added
that at the same time, Antheil's ''reputation as a maverick hurt his more accessible
music from ever finding a wider audience.''
Organizers say the festival is designed not only to celebrate Antheil's work,
but also to stimulate discussion about New Jersey artists today. They point
out that Antheil never abandoned his home state, moving back there toward the
end of his life.
Antheil himself described his Trenton upbringing in his entertaining and self-mythologizing
autobiography, ''Bad Boy of Music,'' (1945), noting that he was born ''across
the street from a very noisy machine shop, thus in all probability giving ammunition
into the hands of those who claim there is such a thing as prenatal influence.''
The composer's loyalty to Trenton is reflected in several piano pieces based
on the mechanical sounds of the city's factories, including ''The Death of
Machines'' and the angular ''Sonata Sauvage.'' Scholars say some of his music
was inspired by the rural surroundings of Washington Crossing and Titusville.
''McConkey's Ferry (Washington at Trenton)'' is a 10-minute work inspired by
George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary
War, and ''You Can Tell You're in New Jersey'' is a work for chorus and piano
peppered with references to the region. Antheil died in Trenton, and is buried
in the city's Riverside Cemetary.
Aside from composing prolifically, Antheil was a contributor to Esquire magazine,
and also wrote books, including one on endocrinology. In 1942, he co-invented
and -patented, with Hedy Lamarr, a device for radio control of missiles that
could be used against the Germans. A refined version of this device was used
by the American military in the 1960's.
Antheil had a flair for sensationalism. For example, in his autobiography,
he claimed to be an expert sharpshooter, writing that during a 1923 recital
in Paris, when the audience was incited by the composer Erik Satie to whistle
and heckle, he kept his cool, in part, because he packed a pistol onstage in
a silken holster. But as his diverse interests suggest, Antheil was more than
a ''bad boy.'' He possessed an original, searching intellect, an aspect of
his personality that the festival will underscore this fact with the discussion
''Ballet fr?netique: The Multiple Lives of George Antheil.''
The festival is a somewhat curtailed version of what was to be a larger celebration
sponsored by the city's museums, educational institutions and arts presenters.
Financing difficulties stemming from the weak economy and cuts in state arts
subsidies forced some of these entities to withdraw. Yamaha Artist Services
stepped in at the last minute to provide more financial support.
Frank Brickle, president of the guild, said he hoped a similar event could
be presented every two years, drawing attention to other major New Jersey composers
''Very few people are aware of the position that New Jersey composers have
had on the American music scene,'' he noted. ''We want to look back and show
New Jersey what they're sitting on, and provide context for present-day composers
The George Antheil Festival 2003 will be presented
from Friday through Sunday at the Conduit arts complex in Trenton
and at various sites around the city.
Friday, March 21, 2003
ENFANT TERRIBLE FROM TRENTON
Antheil festival in composer's hometown aims to restore reputation of pistol-packing
visionary who shocked 1920s Paris
BY WILLA J. CONRAD
Put the words "bad boy" and "classical music" together
and, nine times out of 10, historians come up with the name of composer
and pianist George Antheil (1900-1959).
Yet there was more -- much more -- to this American
composer than the riot-inducing works he contributed to the artistic
ferment of 1920s Paris, and the Composers Guild of New Jersey is presenting
a two-day festival this weekend to prove it.
For instance, Antheil's early pals were Stravinsky,
Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. But
most New Jerseyans probably don't know that the man was Trenton-born
and -bred, the son of a shoe salesman who hopscotched right out of industrial
New Jersey and directly into the frying pan of Paris in the heyday of
French influence over American composition. At one point, he was considered
more innovative than Stravinsky, and by the early '20s the Parisian
literary movement adopted him as its most vivid spokesman for "modernist" ideas.
This weekend's festival events, which include several
concerts, a cabaret, documentary films, panel discussions, a techno-mix
dance event and the largest scholastic gathering of Antheil (pronounced
ANN-tile) specialists to gather in one place to date, will take place
in Trenton, where Antheil's nephew and other relatives still reside.
Most of the events are free; all are open to the public.
Perhaps the name "Ballet mécanique" evokes
a distant memory of some chapter read in a nearly forgotten music history
course. This was the 1924 work that best summed up Antheil's conviction,
about 20 years before home stereo systems would become commonplace,
that music and machines would inevitably meet.
"He wrote a gorgeous essay, a manifesto, in
1927, that describes concerts of the future as being a composer sitting
at a large piano surrounded by mechanical pianos and loudspeakers and
electronic sound machines. He basically invented the synthesizer in
his head before it existed," says Guy Livingston, a pianist and
Antheil advocate who is festival director.
Antheil's "Ballet pour instruments mécaniques
et percussion" was scored for 16 synchronized player pianos, airplane
propellers and sirens, a concoction that in the age of samplers and
synthesizers might evoke a yawn. It was dense, propulsive and repetitive
music. The Paris premiere -- in a drastically reduced version -- was
in 1926. No less a personage than Ezra Pound rose to shout at the cacophonous
audience, "Shut up, you are all stupid idiots." The event
was deemed a success.
It took the electronic revolution 70 years to catch
up. In 1999, a Massachusetts professor, Paul Lehrman, put together the
first performance of "Ballet mécanique" performed as
Antheil scored it -- thanks to the invention of the computer-controlled
Yamaha Disklavier. Yamaha is a co-sponsor of this weekend's festival.
Lehrman's documentary about that performance will be screened this weekend,
and panelists will discuss the work's impact.
"It was too much, the sheer loudness and almost
violence of his performances," says Livingston, who discovered
Antheil in an archive of the composer's forgotten piano music at the
New York Public Library. Antheil's "Airplane Sonata" and other
works have been a staple of Livingston's repertoire since, and Livingston
will play several Antheil works this weekend.
"Now we look back and say this guy was a real
visionary, one of the first composers to look at sounds beyond conventional
concert instruments as music," Livingston says. "But he got
audiences so mad or excited, it reached a point that he kept a pistol
holster sewn inside his tuxedo."
That silken holster was part of the Antheil style:
brash, confrontational, and in love with publicity. His showmanship
ultimately sunk him in the arena of world opinion; eventually the French
grew tired of his theatrics, and the 1927 New York premiere of "Mécanique" at
Carnegie Hall, which had been hyped like a Barnum & Bailey center
ring act, was an utter disaster.
Antheil ended up back home, writing lyrical film
scores for Hollywood to support his wife and young family. His compositional
style since the '20s had been evolving into what Antheil himself dubbed "neo-Romanticism";
by the early '40s, he re-established himself as an American symphonist
whose works were played by major orchestras.
Part of the purpose of the festival, says guild secretary
Frank Brickle, is to debunk the idea that Antheil's candle burned out
after the Carnegie Hall flop.
" There's a certain amount of received wisdom about what happened to him,
that at a certain point he turned conservative and wrote drivel," says Brickle. "I
think you could make the argument that he hit the sweet spot of what everyone
was trying to do in the '40s and '50s: write the musical equivalent of the great
American novel. His Fourth Piano Sonata and Fifth Symphony are astonishing pieces.
I think his music was as good as or better than anything from that period."
Antheil was a mercurial figure, an entrepreneur whose
ideas were not limited to music. Besides composition, he wrote a murder
mystery novel, contributed articles to Esquire magazine, studied glandular
criminology (the now debunked study of whether facial characteristics
incline one toward criminal activity), and with his friend, the actress
Hedy Lamarr, patented a device that emitted constantly shifting radio
frequency patterns for directing torpedoes.
In 1959, Antheil was writing music for Walter Cronkite's
TV series, "The 20th Century," when he died of a heart attack.
He left behind six operas, more than 100 film scores, five symphonies,
and more than 50 other works for voice, piano or chamber ensemble.
Yet all most people remember Antheil for was "Ballet
mécanique." Restoring a more balanced view is this festival's
purpose, says Brickle. "Trying to bring attention to Antheil
is one way of restoring a whole huge swath of musical history," he
An Opera of Yesterday With the Cynicism of Today
Sunday ARTS AND LEISURE DESK
ST. PAUL -- GIVEN the story line of the virtually forgotten 1928 opera
''Transatlantic,'' by the American composer George Antheil, the
self-described ''bad boy of music,'' one can readily understand why the
Minnesota Opera put $1 million into an elaborate production of the work,
which closed here last weekend, actually a co-production with the New
City Opera. This cynical satire is as up-to-date as the current
Ajax, a corrupt American oil baron, recruits a compliant, photogenic
go-getter, Hector Jackson, to run for President. To keep Hector in line,
directs a luxury-loving seductress, Helen, to ensnare him. But Helen
for Hector. So to be safe, Ajax forces her to marry a notorious gigolo,
Jason. Meanwhile, Leo, the campaign treasurer, who is also nuts for
embezzles $1 million from Ajax's war chest to buy a diamond ring with
to woo her. Naturally, the passive, hedonistic, celebrity-struck
populace sweeps Hector into office.
But there is more to the work's contemporary trappings: Antheil's score
concoction of raunchy jazz, smoky cabaret, Ivesian chaos and -- an
specialty -- machine music; the narrative zigzags back and forth in
scenic concept uses the equivalent of cinematic techniques like jump
overlays. You couldn't ask for anything more hip and, it would seem,
So why has ''Transatlantic'' languished? To many musicians, the answer
simple: Antheil, born in Trenton in 1900, may have been a genuine rebel,
something of a visionary, but he was a second-rate composer. During the
1920's, he created a sensation in Berlin and Paris. But he won his
acclaim in nonmusical artistic circles. Virgil Thomson, an early ally
later cooled to Antheil, dubbed him the ''literary mind's idea of a
genius.'' Thomson may have been jealous, but he was right.
For some years, Antheil and his Hungarian-born wife lived in two small
above the unofficial headquarters of the Anglo-American literary
Shakespeare & Company, the hospitable book shop on the Left Bank of
picture gallery occupied one wall in the shop, a sort of hall of fame of
literary luminaries. But it was dominated by Antheil, the only composer
the group, variously shown as a child with blond bangs, a pugnacious
teen-ager and a rugged man in his 20's with a smashed nose, exuding
Antheil had undeniable musical talent and received fine early training,
studying piano with a pupil of Liszt and composition with Ernest Bloch.
made his name first as a pianist, a champion of new music yet an elegant
interpreter of the classics. As a composer, he turned against what he
called the ''mountainous sentiment of Richard Strauss'' and the ''fluid,
diaphanous lechery of the recent French Impressionists.'' For him, the
lay with the ''hard, cold, unsentimental'' music of Stravinsky. While in
Berlin in 1922, he befriended his idol, and in a sense, he spent the
his life trying to overcome the Russian's impact on his own music.
He was powerfully influenced by Stravinsky's rhythmically propulsive
as embodied in works like ''Les Noces.'' But Antheil took this
idea farther, turning out abrasive piano pieces with cluster chords used
mallets: ''Airplane Sonata,'' ''Sonata Sauvage,'' ''Death of Machines''
the like. Antheil's Paris debut recital of his own works in 1923 caused
melee. Protesters shouted; defenders like Marcel Duchamp shouted back.
Ray punched a heckler in the nose. Relishing the uproar, an ecstatic
Satie repeatedly cried out, ''Quel precision!'' (''What precision!'').
Antheil's greatest notoriety came in 1926, in Paris, with the premiere
''Ballet Mecanique,'' originally scored for 16 pianolas and percussion
for practical reasons, performed by one amplified pianola and
including xylophones and propellers. A performance the next year at
Hall was a disaster. The hype was absurdly inflated, and the audience
ready to burst it. Everything went wrong. An airplane propeller was
the audience, causing hats and programs to blow about the hall. Sirens
had refused to operate started wailing when the piece was over. Antheil
shook the stigma of that humiliation.
When Antheil returned to Europe, the literary and musical worlds took
of writing an opera about America was proposed to Antheil by a
Hans von Stuckenschmidt of Universal Edition in Vienna. As Antheil, who
his own libretto, worked up sketches of the score, possible productions
discussed in Berlin and Vienna, and the Metropolitan Opera expressed
interest. The premiere went to the Frankfurt Opera in 1930, a
state-of-the-art production with filmed projections and fast-flowing
changes (28 in Act III alone). A rapturous ovation elicited 20 curtain
But this was to be the only complete, staged performance until the
The inventive production presented by the Minnesota Opera at the Ordway
Theater, seen on April 25, was directed by James Robinson and designed
John Conklin. To capture the quality of a 1920's film, colors were
shades of black, white and gray. It was a busy show, but the riot of
projections and people reflected the kaleidoscopic score.
The music remains problematic. The jazz-infused elements have a brash
authenticity. In the scenes at the campaign headquarters, with pools of
secretaries and staffers working noisily at typewriters and telegraphs,
mechanistic music reveals Antheil at his best. But in trying to reach
the propulsive Stravinsky model, Antheil slips into melodrama.
Still, Antheil's opera provided an engaging if messy evening in this
energetic performance. The star was Sherrill Milnes as a wonderfully
malevolent Ajax. At 63, Mr. Milnes has a baritone voice grown patchy and
wobbly, but he can still command the stage and summon plenty of sound.
clear delivery of text was a lesson in how to sing in English.
A young Welsh baritone, Karl Daymond, was not convincing as Hector.
the role lies low for him. Dramatically, he lacked stature. Hector is
compliant, but he can't be a cipher. The soprano Juliana Rambaldi, as
sang with stamina and soaring sound, but the part is ineptly written,
punishingly high tessitura. In smaller roles, Mark Calkins, Dennis
and Jane Thorngren also seemed to be struggling at times with Antheil's
unwieldy vocal writing. The conductor, David Agler, brought clarity and
to a score lacking in both.
THE premiere of ''Transatlantic'' may have been Antheil's brightest
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Antheil moved from Berlin to Paris,
to New York and finally to Hollywood. His concert music grew tame.
and Bruckner replaced Stravinsky as his models. As Thomson put it, the
boy merely grew up to be a good boy.
Needing to supplement his income, he wound up writing an advice column
the lovelorn, and articles on politics, one of which, in 1940, eerily
predicted the outcome of the war. He died of a heart attack in 1959.
At a time when many new operas are pompous, staid or cerebral,
''Transatlantic'' is at least interesting and alive. But it is a theater
work, without music to which one might want to return on a recording. It
boldness for the Minnesota Opera to present it. Current plans will bring
production to the New York City Opera in 2000, just in time for the
Copyright 1998, The New York Times. Used by Permission. Article by ANTHONY TOMMASINI, May 3, 1998
Assaulting the Senses And Doing the Opposite
THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK
Yesterday's scandal is not necessarily today's classic. The American
George Antheil raised a ruckus with the cacophony of his famed
score, ''Ballet Mécanique,'' in 1926 in Paris.
But ''Ballet Mécanique,'' with its sirens and assembly-line percussion,
rarely heard today. Antheil, who went on to write music for movies in
Hollywood, eventually disowned it.
Doug Varone and Dancers presented a new and riveting look at the score
Tuesday night when Mr. Varone's splendid modern-dance company opened a
weeklong season at the Joyce Theater with two ambitious and highly
The more fascinating was the assault on the senses that Mr. Varone has
titled ''Ballet Mécanique,'' with Antheil's music heard on tape. He has
tribute to the way Antheil originally conceived his project. This was to
the music with an abstract film by Fernand Léger, made in collaboration
Man Ray and Dudley Murphy.
Copyright 2001, The New York Times. Used by Permission. Article by ANNA KISSELGOFF, December 13, 2001, Thursday
A Quarrel and a Mystery In Realistic African Heat
THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK
OPERA REVIEW (Excerpted from The New York Times)
George Antheil's satirical one-act opera ''Venus in Africa'' is set in
outdoor hotel cafe in North Africa. And that's where the cast and
must have felt they were when Encompass Music Theater gave the New York
premiere of the work on a double-bill with Britten's dramatic cantata
Encompass is a scrappy company that presents mostly contemporary and
unusual musical theater works in the Salon Theater, a loft on East 91st
Street near First Avenue. The few amenities for patrons include an
air-conditioning system that doesn't do much. So it seemed that not
white stage lights but the African sun itself was bearing down on the
perspiring singers and the wilting audience.
Still, the chance to hear this work last Wednesday was worth the
Antheil, a curious figure in American music who died in 1959, came to
attention when he was embraced by the avant-garde literary circle in
during the 1920's. Antheil literally created a racket with his pieces
exulted in brash dissonance and incorporated the whirring sounds of
The notoriety of this self-proclaimed ''bad boy of music'' faded when he
returned to the United States in the 1930's. He wound up writing film
in Hollywood and somewhat conservative symphonies. The bad boy, as his
sometime colleague Virgil Thomson put it, merely grew up to be a good
Antheil's champions say his operas and stage works are particularly
of re-examination. Whatever its shortcomings, there is a wacky vitality,
sort of slapdash originality, about ''Venus in Africa,'' composed in
The story concerns an American expatriate writer, Charles, and his
girlfriend, Yvonne, who has left her home, her dog and an ex-boyfriend
with him. They quarrel, she decides to leave, and Charles mischievously
her some counterfeit money he has procured from an African peddler as a
parting gesture. Confused, he invokes the goddess Venus for romantic
and a mysterious woman appears who treats him to a night of ardor then
him into appreciation of Yvonne by leaving him cold.
The 60-minute score comprises almost nonstop motoric riffs,
patterns, rumbas and two-steps interspersed with mock-romantic lyrical
flights and impish evocations of reedy North African music. The opera
best when Antheil takes musical chances, as when he deliberately sets
awkward ways or builds up machinelike chaos. But too often the music
ambles along like some snappy but not especially noticeable film score
Yet it was interesting, and the colorful production, directed by Nancy
Rhodes, was fun. Elizabeth Keusch as Yvonne, Christopher Schumann as
and Ann Hoyt as Venus were the strong principals. John Yaffe conducted
though keeping the brass-heavy chamber orchestra in balance with the
was not easy in this pitless space.
Copyright 1999, The New York Times. Used by Permission. Article by ANTHONY TOMMASINI
June 9, 1999, Wednesday
Shake, Rattle and Roll Around Davies Hall
San Francisco Chronicle
(excerpt from article)
The huge, glorious din that resounded through Davies Symphony
Hall on Sunday night -- and probably up and down Van Ness
Avenue as well -- was not a drunken rugby squad running amok
through a piano factory.
No, that was just George Antheil's ``Ballet mecanique'' having its
cacophonous modern- day professional premiere, thanks to
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.
In the latest in the unbroken series of triumphs that has constituted
this month's ``American Mavericks'' festival, Thomas introduced
local audiences to the boisterous, exuberantly shallow music of
Antheil, born in Trenton, N.J., 100 years ago next month.
The concert was presented in cooperation with the Other Minds
festival (which has just released a strange and fascinating two-CD
set of Antheil's music as well as some taped reminiscences that
were played during the concert).
By any reckoning, the ``Ballet mecanique,'' which was premiered
in Paris in 1926, was the focus of the evening. This ferocious
27-minute percussion-and-piano extravaganza offers a clangorous
ode to the dawn of the mechanized age, with its pounding
rhythms and industrial- level dynamics.
If the sounds of factories, skyscrapers, turbine engines, aircraft
and all the other paraphernalia of the modern era could be
transmuted into high art, Antheil's score is the one to do it.
The centerpiece of this performance was a double bank of
computer-driven Yamaha Disklaviers, 16 all told, playing the
notes that Antheil originally conceived for player pianos -- and
(even with a few malfunctions) playing them a good deal more
accurately than the composer ever could have hoped.
In addition, Thomas conducted a corps of 12 live players,
thwacking away at xylophones, pianos, drums and a computer
sampler to deliver Antheil's assortment of bells and sirens. Those
latter sounds, by the way, don't add much to the mix, but I was
enchanted by Antheil's use of an airplane propeller -- a
wonderfully evocative noise, and no more outré in its way than
Richard Strauss and his infernal wind machine.
Copyright 2000, The San Francisco Chronicle. Used by Permission. Article by Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Tuesday, June 13, 2000
MTT makes industrial-strength music
San Francisco Examiner
INTO EVERY festival of oddball music, a genuine provocateur
must inevitabl y fall.
George Antheil, one of this year's more colorful musical
centenarians, didn't waft to the ground like a feather Sunday
evening in Davies Symphony Hall; he crash-landed on the stage
with a deafening roar that rings in the ear still.
The San Francisco Symphony's tribute to the self-styled "Bad
Boy of Music" (coproduced by the Other Minds contemporary
music festival) concluded the first weekend of Michael Tilson
Thomas' American Mavericks Festival with a performance of
Antheil's 1924 "Ballet mécanique," that, thanks to contemporary
technology, most closely approximated the composer's wishes. It
did not go gently into the good night.
Sixteen Yamaha Disklavier pianos (eight baby grands, eight
uprights), all converted into pianolas (synchronized player
pianos), shared the stage with two live pianists, nine very busy
percussionists and a computer technician who periodically set off
an alarm (from a board festooned with seven of them) and tapes
of sirens and airplane propellers (three), while Tilson Thomas,
listening to a click track, conducted with headphones hugging his
ears. Not since the meteor shower that wiped out the dinosaurs
have you heard such a racket.
Earlier in the evening, the tribute had featured Antheil's Sonata
No. 2 for Violin with Piano and Drums and "A Jazz Symphony,"
performed at the notorious 1927 Carnegie Hall concert that
included the U.S. premiere of "Ballet mécanique." Charles
Amirkhanian, executive director of Other Minds and a long-time
Antheil scholar, introduced the program. Later, Tilson Thomas
added his comments and showed us an autographed photograph
from the late Hedy Lamarr, with whom Antheil shared a patent for
a radar jamming device, the technology for which adumbrated the
contemporary cell phone; the movie star's recent death ended
plans for her participation in this festival.
The Antheil birthday party (July 8 is the actual date) certainly
cleared the air. A career that started in Trenton, N.J., continued in
Paris during the jazziest moments of the Jazz Age and concluded
in Hollywood; scoring Humphrey Bogart movies undoubtedly
merits a major survey of this kind. That Antheil, who died in
1959, didn't generate a lot of disciples matters little. That much of
what was performed Sunday is of a stature that does not merit
repeated hearing mattered less. Antheil's output added up to one
of the more glittering panels of the crazy quilt of American music
and the sheer enthusiasm of this presentation brought the audience
to its feet.
Commissioned by Paul Whiteman, "A Jazz Symphony" offers a panoply of
what Americans were listening to in the third decade of the 20th
century, switching subjects with the ease, Tilson Thomas
suggested, with which one twirls a radio dial. Jazz, pop favorites,
salon material and even a quote from Stravinsky's "Petrouchka"
suddenly announce themselves and just as peremptorily vanish.
The orchestra, laden with banjos and saxophones, looks like a
jazz band. Tilson Thomas and members of the orchestra
obligingly changed into summer whites for this performance as if
they were the resident aggregation at a warm-weather resort. The
trombone riffs, wailing saxes, an inviting solo on muted trumpet
by Mark Inouye (formerly of the New World) and pianist Michael
Linville's sassy chord sequences contributed to the exhilaration of
The 1923 sonata (commissioned by poet Ezra Pound for his
fiddling mistress) offers the same collage technique in microcosm.
Blues, a habanera rhythm and parlor ditties yield to impertinent
tone clusters, with the percussionist replacing the piano for the
final minutes. Violinist David Abel, pianist Julie Steinberg and
percussionist William Winant relished every delectably insouciant
©2000 San Francisco Examiner, Used by Permission. Article by Allan Ulrich, Examiner music critic, June 13, 2000, Page C3.