Posts Tagged “John Cage”

JACK Quartet presents two concerts in LA this coming Sunday and Monday. On 2/13, they’re giving an afternoon concert for the Da Camera Society (tickets/details here) at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. The program includes early music – Machaut and Gesualdo – as well as contemporary works: Philip Glass’ 5th Quartet and Tetras by Iannis Xenakis. The selections certainly suit the concert’s location: both Xenakis and Machaut are composers who should be of interest to architects!

On Monday, JACK will present a different program as part of Monday Evening Concerts at the Colburn School (tickets/details here). It includes both of Aaron Cassidy’s quartets, John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts, Anton Webern’s Op. 9 Bagatelles, and Horaţiu Rădulescu’s String Quartet No. 5 “before the universe was born.”

This looks to be an amazing double header of new music programs. I hope that some of our Californian readers will be able to attend. If so, please send us a report.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson has an excellent post about Aaron Cassidy’s 2nd Quartet on New Music Box today.

As Tim pointed out on his blog, Paul Griffiths’ notes for the 2/14 program are online.

Here’s a taste of Tetras:

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Petr Kotik

Since 1984, the SEM Ensemble, directed by Petr Kotik, has given annual Christmas concerts. But these are not your usual holiday fare! The programs mix works from the New York School, other pieces in the avant-garde/experimental tradition, and early music.

On Tuesday evening December 21 at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea, SEM will present J. S. Bach’s Fugue in 6 Voices from A Musical Offering (1747), Kotik’s 1st String Quartet (2007-’10), Why Patterns? (1978) by Morton Feldman, and two works by Christian Wolff: Small Preludes (2009-’10) and, incredibly, the American premiere of a work dating from 1958: For Six or Seven Players (for Merce Cunningham).

Petr Kotik and Christian Wolff were kind enough to share some remarks on For 6 or 7 Players and Small Preludes.

Christian Wolff – For 6 or 7 Players

Christian Wolff’s For 6 or 7 Players (for trumpet, trombone, piano, violin, viola, double bass, and optional flute, hence 6 or 7) was originally written for Merce Cunningham’s dance “Rune” in 1958, while Wolff served in the U.S. Army. Wolff sent the piece to Cage, not retaining a copy for himself and the original was lost. Finding the manuscript somewhat ambiguous, Cage painstakingly re-notated the piece into a precise score.

In 1964, during rehearsals with John Cage in Warsaw for the performance with the Merce Cunningham Dance Co. at the Warsaw Autumn festival, Cage brought a piece by Christian Wolff: For 6 or 7 Players (Music for Merce Cunningham). The piece was hand-copied by Cage, bearing his typical manuscript signature. The musicians were the Czech ensemble from Prague, Musica viva pragensis, which I founded few years back. Cage intended to perform the piece few days later, but it proved to be far too complicated to be ready in one or two rehearsals, so he gave up on the idea and left the material – the score and parts – with me. Going through my music archive last summer, I discovered the material and decided to perform the piece. Christian Wolff and I met to go through the score to resolve a few questions, and the performances are result of this effort. —Petr Kotik

The written music of “For 6 or 7 players” (1959) indicates, on a score, time spaces (brackets) anywhere within which a specified number of pitches, to be selected by the players from a given collection, are to be played. Dynamics and modes of playing are also variously specified or left free. That the music was made to go with a dance (Merce Cunningham’s “Rune”) encouraged me to allow for plenty of silence.–Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff — Small Preludes

The arrangements of “Small Preludes” (2010) were made to offer something more recent. There were 20 small preludes for solo piano (2009), of which 8 are arranged for the instrumentation of “For 6 or 7 Players” (the optional seventh player is a flutist) and a ninth is left as is, a piano solo. The original piano music was written on two staves but without specification of clef, so in playing and making instrumental versions, a considerable variety of different pitch readings are possible (in this instrumentation these choices are made by the composer). — Christian Wolff

Concert Details

December 21, 2010 at 8 PM @ Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC

Paula Cooper Gallery is located at 534 West 21st Street, New York. Tickets are $15, Students and Seniors $10.  For information and reservations, call (718) 488-7659 or email

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Shh! We’re improvising! The Lepers of Melancholy, Houston TX (photo by Jonathan Jindra)

While reading Conversing With Cage at a bus stop today, I stumbled across this funny yet in the end profound exchange (circa 1980) between John Cage and John Robert with Silvey Panet Raymond:

How do you consider new popular music – punk, New Wave?

What is the New Wave? I don’t really know what it is. If you could point it out to me, I might have some reaction.

It’s very simple, three – , four-chord stuff, aggressive, fast.

There’s a good deal of dancing on the part of the performers?

Usually jumping up and down

I’ve seen something like that. It was entertaining to see but not very engaging.

But they use very dissonant sounds; I wonder how you felt about that?

I have no objection to dissonance.

I know you have no objections, but I wanted to know whether you felt any pleasure that things were coming round to your way of thinking.

But this isn’t it, is it? Isn’t it a regular beat?

Not all the time.

I think it’s part of show business.

Aren’t you?


In a marginal way?

No. I’m much more a part of music as a means of changing the mind. Perhaps if you want to say that, I wouldn’t myself.

Opening up the mind.

A means of converting the mind, turning it around, so that it moves away from itself out to the rest of the world, or as Ramakrishna said, “as a means of rapid transportation.”

So your music in itself is not that important.

The use of it is what is important.

The use rather than the result.

That’s what Wittgenstein said about anything. He said the meaning of something was in its use.

As exasperated as I get by quotes attributed to John Cage regarding jazz improvisation, so-called popular music, and well, composing in general, I have been and will continue to be educated, provoked and inspired by his writings and music. My most recent work-in-progress for five electric guitars and electric bass is in part a homage to Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939) that utilizes notation borrowed from Leo Brouwer’s wonderful guitar quartet Cuban Landscape With Rain (1984) to realize various aleatoric events. How my new piece (or for that matter Brouwer’s) would sit with Cage and his desire that music realized via chance operations covert the mind of its performers and listeners is – since he’s no longer with us – open to debate.

Maybe including “…for John Cage…” in the title of my piece isn’t appropriate?

Cage also readily admitted he was “close minded…” about many things.

Does Cage present to you a similar grab bag of ideas – some valuable, some exasperating? Has your attitude and appreciation of Cage changed over time?

P.S. Have a safe and relaxing holiday!

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