New Jersey has been home to lots of famous artists and performers. Of course, there are poets like William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman, singer Frank Sinatra, and actress Meryl Streep, but also so many others. In the world of classical music in the early 20th century, there is one New Jersey composer of particular note. George Antheil (1900-1959), born and raised in Trenton, was one of music’s most colorful characters. His autobiography, Bad Boy of Music, chronicles his avant-garde years in Paris in the 1920s, where he was hailed as a genius by Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau, and his Hollywood years, where he wrote dozens of scores for Humphrey Bogart films. He also had an affair with actress Hedy Lamarr and the pair drew on Antheil’s knowledge of player pianos to patent a radar invention used in WWII to guide submarine missiles! His autobiography reads like a novel.

The Roebling Factory

On April 20 at 7:30 pm, the Capital Philharmonic with conductor Daniel Spalding will perform one of George Antheil’s most famous and controversial works, Ballet Mécanique. The performance will take place at the historic Roebling Machine Shop in Trenton, once an enormous factory where they made the steel used to build the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a dramatic and fitting setting as the theme of the concert is “Industry.” Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique features a spectacular cacophony of pianos, percussion, and a whirling airplane propeller, all evoking the machine age. The first performance famously caused a riot in Paris in 1924.

State of the Arts produced a feature about George Antheil back in 2003. At the time, pianist Guy Livingston and others had organized a 3-day Antheil Festival. The feature includes a rare film clip of that 1924 Paris riot and clips from Fernand Léger film for which Ballet Mécanique was first composed.

George Antheil’s father had a shoe store in Trenton, and the family had a summer house in Titusville near Washington’s Crossing. Late in his life, Antheil’s thoughts returned to that spot on the Delaware made famous by George Washington in 1776 and he composed McConkey’s Ferry, a concert overture for orchestra. State of the Arts featured the New Jersey Symphony’s performance of the overture in 2015. It’s a romantic score, a striking contrast to Antheil’s earlier avant-garde works.

The Capital Philharmonic’s Industry concert on April 20 will also feature percussion pieces by John Cage, a violin and percussion concerto by Lou Harrison, and music by J.S. Bach and CPNJ Music Director Daniel Spalding. Spalding began his career as a percussionist before becoming a conductor.

The Trenton Circus Squad is also taking part in the concert. State of the Arts produced a recent feature about them as well. It’s an incredible program where Trenton-area teens are trained by a former Ringling Brothers performer.