Tag Archive: John Cage

Best Concert of the Year?

Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO

Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.

Cage in the Can: A John Cage Centenary Festival at the Sydney Opera House with Bang on A Can All-Stars

At the Musicircus of the John Cage festival at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Jamie Williams.

Who is John Cage? Does it matter? At a certain point music must “speak” for itself, allow the musician to interpret the music and the listener to have the pure experience. It can be useful and interesting to have “background” whether historical or technical, as Mark Stewert gave a little of in his introductory spiels before he played, particularly when that information helps people with the music. But often with Cage’s music so much of the idea is in the concept, in the construction that there’s a risk that the listener thinks they’ve “got it” before a note is played. This, and the strong tendency toward cult worship of Cage, is ironic considering his is so often performer’s music. Cage’s cleverness is often overemphasized, he seems either to be taken too seriously or too facetiously, which threatens to reduce his pieces to one-liners, something he seems to have reliably avoided. His music seems more composed to help people to think on their own about music, any music, without drifting between clichés and received wisdom in a deoxygenated modern world. From sometime in the 19th century, music started to come about which anyone could listen to and appreciate intuitively without any training or “background” except maybe literacy and some emotional intelligence, whereas before the French Revolution a Baroque composer could expect a great deal more technical musical knowledge from the audience. One hopes music can transcend or make a false dichotomy intuition versus intellect (nowadays maybe more a corporate misunderstanding of Carl Jung’s types, anyway the “debate” is sophomoric). John Cage’s music, and other experimentalists’, seems often explained and even appreciated from pure intellect, whether using mathematical or philosophical or religious principles, music you “get” just from the score and it’s always trippy. Music, the thing, whatever it is, you listen to while the musicians interpret and play, in the end “paints” it own background and has to be taken as the thing in itself. Cage’s music is music because it can stand on its own, make its own background even when it comes from nowhere. Mozart’s music came from nowhere and he was no innovator. As far as we know he walked about with music coming to him, the more he wrote the more came, and to ask: where did it come from? how did he think up such music? is like asking how space or time can be infinite, how a four dimensional universe can be expanding, how can we have free will, or what happens after death.

American Mavericks at Carnegie Hall, Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Play Varèse, Cowell, Cage, and Adams

Edgard Varese

The reviews of three concerts and a dance performance you will find on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, one in San Francisco and three in New York, represent only a small part of the month-long festival, organized by Carnegie Hall under Michael Tilson Thomas’ direction, but including many other events scattered about the city at venues including the the Whitney, the Henry Street Settlement, the New York Public Library, and (le) Poisson Rouge. (Click here for a full listing. It should be noted that Michael Clark, reviewed here by Louise Levathes, is very much a maverick, although not an American.) I especially regret I couldn’t attend more of it, but I can take some consolation in referring you to WQXR’s expansive coverage of most aspects of the festival, with articles, interviews, and snippets of performances.)

American Mavericks at Davies Hall: the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas and Friends Play Cage, Foss, Cowell, and Ruggles

Revolutions, the saying goes, are frequently revisited as farce. If only one knew it at the time! In the ferment of the 1970s, a seeming battle to the death played itself out among advocates of dodecaphonic music and the apostles of deconstructed “happenings.” Both insurgencies would ultimately lose. But the arrogance of the revolutionaries was no different in music from what it would have been in politics. The average listener hoping for Brahms found himself besieged in those days—contemptuously marginalized in either camp—-and marked for replacement. That is always the frightening dimension of revolution: the smugness of the cook breaking eggs for the new omelette—-and the suspicion that you may be one of the eggs.

Tully Scope Festival Opening Night: International Contemporary Ensemble play Chance Encounters: For Morton Feldman, with Webern, Xenakis, and Cage…and a prelude by Nathan Davis

Tully Scope Opening Event: ICE performs Nathan Davis, Bells, in the Grand Foyer of Alice Tully Hall. Photo © 2011 Michael Miller.

Tully Scope Festival Opening Night For Morton Feldman: Chance Encounters Tuesday, February 22 at 7:30 pm International Contemporary Ensemble Steven Schick, conductor and percussion Feldman: The King of Denmark, for solo percussion Webern: Concerto for nine instruments Xenakis: Jalons, for…
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