Composer John Cage (1912–1992) paid attention to the 99% of sound that was not previously called "music." This even led him to explore what was previously thought of as "silence." Because he challenged existing notions of music in such a fundamental way, his ideas still provoke and inspire.
Cage visited New England Conservatory for a festival of his music in 1991. In 2012, we celebrate his centennial with performances by NEC's musicians here and around Boston.
Led by Stephen Drury of the NEC faculty, Callithumpian Consort is a loose aggregation of NEC students, alumni, and new music enthusiasts that performs locally, on the East Coast, and in Europe. Throughout the year, the group visits NEC with performances of contemporary avant-garde music.
This season, Callithumpian Consort is using its concert appearances at NEC and other nearby venues to create a conversation within and between these events. Stephen Drury explains:
"Open For'm is an immersion, an encounter, a multi-dimensional experience. Callithumpian Consort focuses on a single piece of music in a free-form event made of equal parts teach-in, demonstration, free-form discussion, open rehearsal, Q and A session, pre-concert lecture, and post-concert reception.
"The evening will include an open rehearsal of John Cage's Cheap Imitation in its orchestral version, as well as excerpts from related works (Satie’s Socrate), related video footage, commentary from special guest Laura Kuhn from the John Cage Trust, discussions with the players themselves, and refreshments.
"Consider yourself invited to eavesdrop on the ongoing conversation between the music and the musicians (and vice versa). Sit next to and among the performers; experience the music, its history, challenges and beauties from the inside of the group!
"The encounter with John Cage's Cheap Imitation for orchestra continues with the performance of the complete work (alongside music of Luigi Nono and Morton Feldman) at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on November 1 as part of Callithumpian Consort's year-long celebration of the John Cage centennial."
The next Open For'm project will be an encounter with the music of Lei Liang, with an NEC concert on February 20.
The 1972 orchestral version of Cheap Imitation is actually an "imitation of an imitation" if one is to extend Cage's logic. The original 1969 piano work with this title takes Cage's much earlier two-piano arrangement of Erik Satie's Socrate and eliminates issues of copyright/authorship by retaining Satie's rhythmic pattern while replacing all of the pitches of the melody with randomly determined pitches. This met a practical need, as Merce Cunningham's dance work with existing movements had been created to the rhythmic phrasing of the earlier work.
In 1972, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation commissioned an orchestral work, which Cage fulfilled by taking the 1969 piano work and applying these questions:
"Of those orchestra instruments that easily play all the notes of the phrase, how many and which actually do? Of those notes in the phrase, how many and which are actually to be played? (for all instruments). What quantity of the total duration is to be held? (for each duration longer than the unit within a phrase). Is a note left quickly, held full length, or held slightly more than full length?"
The 1972 premiere never happened; Cage found the orchestra unprepared in rehearsal. Tonight's players have proven themselves up to any challenge, and this performance of Cheap Imitation is the work of a significantly augmented "orchestral" version of Callithumpian Consort:
Sarah Brady, piccolo
Jilene Vanopdorp, flute
Jessi Rosinski, alto flute
Amanda Hardy, oboe
Ben Fox, english horn
Alexis Lanz, clarinet
Ben Seltzer, bass clarinet
Adam Smith, bassoon
Philipp Staeudlin, alto saxophone
Neil Godwin, horn
Matthew Yasuji Ebisuzaki, trumpet
Christopher Moore, trombone
Beth McDonald, tuba
Maarten Stragier, guitar
Jeffrey Means, marimba
Nick Tolle, glockenspiel
Franziska Huhn, harp
Ashley Zhang, celesta
Elaine Rombola, piano
Diamanda La Berge Dramm, violin
Micah Ringham, violin
Ethan Wood, viola
Yina Yong, cello
David Goodchild, piano
Cheap Imitation utilizes 24 players. Here's video of a recent NEC performance of Cage's 58 (i.e. 58 players).