with every year in mid-January the BBC staged
a composer portrait, this time dedicated to
the American John Cage.
went there with some apprehension for two
reasons: first I found another performance
of Cage’s famous silent piece 4’33 somewhat
pointless. And indeed, Lawrence Foster, an
otherwise fine conductor, made a bit of a
fool of himself when he wiped imaginary sweat
from his brow from the supposed strain of
conducting nothingness. Also between each
of the three sections the audience coughed
their lungs off, as if supporting the joke.
But that is Cage: either he is turned into
a joke, or taken much too seriously in a philosophical,
almost mystical way. If you want to explore
a serious discussion of 4’33 I can recommend
the American professor Larry J Solomon’s 1998
Another experimental, conceptual piece which
only bears one performance is Erik Satie’s
I didn’t wanted to be disappointed by prematurely
aged experimental music of my once hero Cage.
I have attended and wasted time at many experimental
music events in the last 25 years, which were
supposedly inspired by Cage. Nothing ages
more quickly than yesterday’s self-proclaimed
avant garde. I was curious if Cage stood the
passage of time.
was positively surprised: the three days had
great moments. The pianist Philip Mead gave
a fantastic performance of Henry Cowell’s
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1928).
In Mead’s interpretation the tone clusters
blended perfectly with the orchestral sounds.
It was also great to hear Charles Ives’s Central
Park in the Dark (1906) again. It is extraordinary
how ahead of his time Ives was. The rejuvenated
BBC Symphony Orchestra with many young female
faces produced a fresh, exciting sound.
Saturday afternoon the pianist and composer
Stephen Montague, a friend of Cage, organised
Musicircus, simultaneous sonic and
danced actions in the large, rambling foyer
of the Barbican Hall. Small groups of 1-5
performers played independently from each
other on various instruments, gadgets or electronic
tools. The listener was free to walk around
between these groups and chose his or her
own sonic foreground and background. The lack
of an opportunity to walk around in the London
Sinfonietta’s performance of Cage’s Apartment
House 1776 made this a long and boring
experience. The ensemble was also split up
into several groups playing pieces independently.
In the conventional setup in the Barbican
Hall all the audience could do was endure
a static cacophony of 25 minutes.
amazing were the beautiful sounds which the
BBC Symphony Chorus under Stephen Jackson
produced in Cage’s choral piece Variations
I for Stephen Montague on Sunday afternoon
in St. Luke’s. If you take Cage seriously
it leads the performers to extraordinary sonic
results. Bravo! Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes
(1946-48) for prepared piano, always an easy
crowd puller, were perfectly and by heart
performed by Rolf Hind.
most outstanding performance was given by
the soprano Loré Lixenberg in Cage’s
Aria. Lixenberg is not just a good
singer, she is a deeply theatrical performer,
who constantly transgressed the boundaries
of musical performance, inspired by Cage,
with ease and astonishing results. It brought
back the excitement of the convention breaking
inventiveness of Cage. Lixenberg has energy,
wit and highly accomplished vocal abilities,
which made her live performance a rare event.
great musician was the conductor David Porcelijin.
He is able to play with the BBC Symphony Orchestra
as if it were one complex instrument, be it
in Varèse’s classic, powerful Amériques,
or in Cage’s sparse Atlas eclipticalis
performed simultaneously with Winter Music
and Cartridge Music. It was a pity
that Sound Intermedia did some very unsubtle
and plump "sound design", which
was much too loud.
late concert "Constructions in Metal"
was striking on a visual level. To see all
the strange percussive instruments on stage
and the Guildhall Students rushing around
between them and producing unusual sounds
under the direction of Richard Benjafield
was an impressive spectacle.
what is Cage? Originally he wanted to become
a writer. His books – the most important one
is Silence – are unconventional, witty
and inspiring. He is an extremely good story
teller. Cage contributed enormously to the
expansion of what was accepted as musical
sounds. He was a destroyer, systematically
cut the harmonic glue between notes. Any sound
was good for him. Cage was one of the first
to use electronic sound manipulation. He also
destroyed conventional boundaries of musical
art forms. In that sense he was also a liberator
from stale conventions often inspiring artists,
choreographers, writers rather than composers.
Cage was definitely an ingenious inventor
(prepared piano) trying to open our ears to
the beauty of sounds as they are and fighting
against subjective taste and the prescriptive
lecturing of musical composition. He introduced
completely new procedures of composing music
like chance operations and indeterminacy,
always with the aim of excluding personal
taste. But great freedom requires high discipline,
which Cage strictly imposed on himself. Here
Cage is often misunderstood, sometimes deliberately,
in the sense that anything goes and everybody
is an artist. Think again – and indeed, the
Cage weekend in the Barbican made you think