The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What does John Cage’s music mean and how should we listen to it as Madison twice marks the centennial of the American composer? Check out these stories from The New York Times and NPR.

September 7, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 100 years already?

The Ear finds it curious and unexpectedly welcome that the new concert season will open with two different tributes to the rarely performed avant-garde American composer John Cage, whose birth centennial is being celebrated this year.

This Sunday night at 7 p.m. in the Anderson Auditorium, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the music faculty of Edgewood College (below) will celebrate the iconoclastic composer with a FREE concert.

Featured on the performance are Kathleen Otterson, Nathan Wysock, Todd Hammes, Blake Walter, Julie Dunbar, and Bernie Brink, with a special guest appearance by Clocks in Motion. Included on the program are Cage’s “Radio Music,” “Child of Tree,” “Third Construction in Metal,” and “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs,” among other works.

Then on Monday night, at 8 p.m., in Morphy Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, guest performers Iktus Percussion (below) will also mark the Cage centennial with a FREE concert.

It is a brave and creative step for the generally conservative Catholic college, and  even for a mainstream music school, to take.

In fact, it is worthy of Cage himself (below) – the life partner of and longtime collaborator with famed dancer Merce Cunningham — who deserves a lot more than the derision his famous (or infamous) 4’33” piano piece that emphasizes silence and environmental sound deserves.

Like Charles Ives, Cage seems quintessentially American as a pioneer of environmental music, the artistic use of silence and the prepared piano in defining alternative or counter-cultural classical music.  He knew what he was doing and could be quite articulate about his artistic goals and methods (at  bottom).

And speaking of Cage, a good friend of The Ear recently sent along this terrific and insightful appreciation of Cage and his music, and how it relates to anxiety in general and specifically Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, from The New York Times.

Perhaps it will excite you enough to attend the Edgewood and UW concerts. Applause could even be, appropriately enough to honor the Zen-like composer, the sound of one hand clapping.

And here is a link to two excellent essay on “Sound and Silence: Five Ways of Understanding John Cage” and “33 Musicians on What John Cage Communicates” that appeared on NPR’s superb classical blog “Deceptive Cadence.” It, too, might inspire attendance as well as understanding:

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