composer

George Antheil (1900-1959) was an American composer—born in Trenton, New Jersey—who began his professional career in Europe, where he was friends with, among many others, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Satie, and Igor Stravinsky. In the early 20s, he lived at the literal center of English-language culture in Europe: above Sylvia Beach's legendary Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on the Rue de l'Odéon, in Paris's Latin Quarter. (Beach was the original publisher of Joyce's controversial and groundbreaking Ulysses.)

Antheil wrote over 300 musical works in all major genres, including symphonies, chamber works, film music, and operas. He was extremely outspoken and articulate, and wrote numerous articles, as well as an autobiography, Bad Boy of Music, which is still in print.

As a young composer, he considered himself to be quite the revolutionary, and his music, especially in his early career, employed many unusual sound sources and combinations of instruments. In many ways, both musical and technical, he was far ahead of his time. His concerts routinely caused riots all over Europe, which at the time was considered a sign of genius.

Besides composing, Antheil was an excellent writer, an inventor, and a student of many disciplines, including endocrinology, criminal justice, and military history. He was co-holder of a remarkable patent (with actress Hedy Lamarr) for a "secret communications system" which is today in wide use and known as "spread-spectrum technology" — although neither he nor Lamarr ever received a dime for it.

Antheil left Paris in the late 20s and went to Berlin, and then as German society began to fall under the influence of the Nazis, returned permanently to America. He settled in Hollywood, where he enjoyed a reasonably successful career as a composer for film and television. He died in 1959.

A conference honoring Antheil in his hometown took place in March 2003.

Performances

Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | November 13, 2009
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | May 26, 2006
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | February 23, 2001

News and Press

[Concert Review] A congress of noise convened in Jordan Hall

The human desire to produce a loud noise by striking one object with another must be as old as communication itself, and like all histories, it has its high points and lows. The period between the two world wars, for instance, was a very good time for the art and science of banging. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project reminded us of this fact on Friday night with a memorable concert that was in equal parts ambitious musical event, cultural time warp, and sonic magical mystery tour.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Concert Review] Classical music review: BMOP's Big Bang

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) began its season in Jordan Hall on November 13 with an unusual and enthralling concert that it advertised as a “Big Bang” event. In all three works on the program the emphasis was on a huge assortment of percussion instruments both familiar and exotic.

The Arts Fuse Full review
[Concert Review] With hammer and feather BMOP goes percussive

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project has been all over the news for the promise of hearing the Boston premiere of the near-original version of George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique, which it delivered under the direction of Gil Rose at Jordan Hall on Friday the Thirteenth. About that more later, but the real story of this concert was the variety of sound and expression of which percussion ensembles are capable.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer Full review
[Concert Review] Ballet mécanique

The avante-garde and complexity of George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique probably explains why it hasn’t been performed for a live audience since 2001 and why it’s only been performed a few times since its original composition in 1924.

Object-Idea Full review
[News Coverage] Unusual arsenal for "Big Bang"

Eight player pianos, two grand pianos, four bass drums, four xylophones, an air-raid siren, and a gamelan that weighs nearly a ton - that’s just some of the equipment that the Boston Modern Orchestra Project will have on the Jordan Hall stage for “Big Bang,” tonight’s percussion-heavy season-opening concert.

It’s a bang big enough to cause some logistical headaches, says BMOP’s music director, Gil Rose.

“My orchestra manager decided she won’t kill me, but there has been some discussion of it,” he says, sounding not entirely unserious.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Concert Review] Big Bang: music of Antheil, Varèse, and Harrison

This performance earns a near perfect score for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) It’s not often that we hear George Antheil’s notorious Ballet Mécanique, partly because it is scored for sixteen synchronized player pianos. Back when Antheil wrote it, there was no way these speedy automatons could be synchronized; but now, in the electronic age, they can be. And they were. While this performance featured only eight player pianos, they effectively produced the intense sound Antheil could only dream about.

Stylus Full review
[Interview] Disklaviers, propellers, and electric bells: BMOP offers Antheil program

BMInt interviewed Paul D. Lehrman, composer, author, consultant, educator, one of the world’s leading experts on MIDI, computer music and expert on George Antheil, whose Ballet mécanique will be performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project on November 13th at Jordan Hall.

George Antheil is infamous as a “bad boy” composer. Is his Ballet mécanique music? Should we bring ear plugs?

The Boston Musical Intelligencer Full review
[Concert Review] BMOP raps up another crowd-pleasing season

Conductor Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project closed this season’s subscription series Friday night with a good-time program of crossover music.

The Boston Globe Full review