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.
Years before I ever picked up any of their books, I was fascinated by the idea of the 'Lost Generation' of American writers in Paris between the World Wars; now that I've actually read The Great Gatsby, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms and even a couple of Anaïs Nin's books (Gertrude Stein's going to have to wait, though), I felt I couldn't pass up the chance to hear this UK premiere of the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen's piece inspired by Nin's relationships with several of her many lovers from that time—among them her father.
March 7, 2011 marked a brave direction for Lincoln Center’s Tully Scope Festival with an evening of music exclusively by composers who are (gasp!) still alive. This concert, which featured the music of Tyondai Braxton along with works from John Adams, Caleb Burhans, and Louis Andriessen was an important inclusion in this exciting and eclectic festival. Tully Scope would reinforce the importance of programming living composers two nights later with Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider’s even more daring presentation of works by living composers including the New York premiere of Jacobsen’s “Beloved, do not let me be discouraged” and the World Premiere of Philip Glass’ “Suite for String Quartet from Bent.”