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Silence, Random Sound and Other Cagisms


When the centennial of John Cage’s birth arrives next September 5th, it will no doubt occur to many to celebrate with a moment of silence, or more properly, 4’33” thereof, the title of his most infamous “composition.” If you have no convenient instrument at hand on which to “perform” the piece, rest assured that you will be able to download an MP3 of exactly the correct duration of silence.

In anticipation of the 100th birthday of Cage, several of Boston’s musical institutions are programming musical tributes, leading one to wonder whether a reevaluation of Cage’s position in the avant garde canon is underway. Will a composer best known for what he did not compose, and who in later years instructed performers how to resort to chance in performances, continue to hold even a tenuous place when his work ceases to shock? Listeners should be able to decide for themselves after Boston’s mini festival of Cage concludes in three weeks.

The festivities for “Cage.88@100” begin on February 6th at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. NEC’s piano department chair Bruce Brubaker and project director Stephen Drury will bring together piano students from the entire spectrum of NEC’s teaching studios for this concert. Drury’s interactions with Cage included the 1991 NEC visit (the year before he died), when the solo part of Cage’s 101 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra was premiered, as well as commissioning  a new work from the composer.  Drury has coached students for this upcoming concert and has prepared the piano to be used in the performance of Sonatas and Interludes. The program is weighted towards the period of Cage’s most intensive concentration on writing for piano — in the 1940s and early 1950s — along with two works from much later in his output. A useful link is here.

Installment two will be a presentation of Longy College of Music and Unique Voices. Brooklyn-based So Percussion brings their experimental style to Boston with a program of John Cage and original works on February 9th at 8:00.

Then pianist Vicky Chow will  honor of John Cage’s centennial with a performance at MIT’s Killian Hall on February 13th of  John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano.

NEC will present two additional concerts on February 22nd and 27th. The latter will include the world’s first performance in its entirety of Cage’s Music for Piano from 1952, in which “Cage began a series of giant steps to remove traces of intention or ‘authorship’ from his works for piano. The random imperfections that occur in paper due to its organic source as fiber pulp became notation. Anywhere Cage could see an imperfection, he drew a note onto the score paper, [letting it] fall where it may. All other performance decisions are left to the performer: duration and intervals between notes, how the note is struck by the performer, etc.”

On February 7th that force-of-nature pianist Janice Weber performs a concert of demanding works of the standard repertoire, including: Liszt’s Two St. Francis Legends and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2; Debussy’s Estampes; Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, and Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations, but Weber will also give a nod in Cage’s direction by including the composer’s The Seasons (1947) in her Piano Masters Series recital at Boston Conservatory’s Seully Hall. The piece was originally composed as a score for a ballet by Merce Cunningham before Cage arranged it both for solo piano and for orchestra.

A Cage tribute by Callithumpian Consort, programmed by its director, pianist Stephen Drury, will include Cage’s Apartment House 1776, Earle Brown’s Available Forms I, and John Zorn’s For Your Eyes Only. This event, on March 1st will be in the new Calderwood Auditorium at The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  (Callithumpian will return to the Gardner in the fall for two concluding programs including music by Cage, Morton Feldman, Luigi Nono, and others.)

Detailed information on the concerts mentioned here can be found in BMInt’s “Coming Events.”


3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. At some political websites, after Rick Perry’s “ooops” stumble, I wrote that the pause took so long, his campaign had to cut a partial royalty check to the John Cage Estate.  I wonder how many people who read it got it?

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — February 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm

  2. The number of people “who read it and got it” was exactly the number of people who read and got the New Yorker cartoon around Christmas that showed an age-varied group of carollers standing stock still with their mouths closed, over the caption “The John Cage Carollers.”

    Comment by Alan Levitan — February 3, 2012 at 11:54 pm

  3. “Silence is not silence to me–not the absence of sound…but is all of what we call non-musical sound. I actually prefer sound to music and I like the sounds that I hear.”  –John Cage, in Cage/Cunningham (a film by Elliot Caplan)

    Comment by Rebecca M — February 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

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