Parachuting to Land of Post-its and Cage
Last Tuesday, the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, opened a series of four American Mavericks programs at Carnegie Hall, with works by John Cage, Henry Cowell and Edgar Varèse, and a new piece by John Adams on the program.
"Cage’s Song Books
was up first, and the stage was intriguingly set with cubicles, tables, video screens, scattered instruments and dueling grand pianos.
"Clearly, Mr. Thomas wanted the audience to enter Cage’s world without explanation. I did not even notice him until several minutes into the piece, when a light brightened, and there he was, sitting on a stool, straight-faced, writing notes on Post-its and affixing them to his jacket."
"Cage’s Song Books
(1970) is basically a kind of kit from which you, the performer, can come up with songs, speeches, actions, performances on other instruments, which all add up together to create a musical event,
Mr. Thomas said in a program note."
"To enjoy the piece, you must put out of your mind any expectation that a song is a setting of a text and that words really matter. Words were a marginal element of this engrossing 35-minute performance, which was closer to a theatrical happening than to a song recital."
"The performance had a most unlikely trio of soloists: the composer, sound artist and actor Joan La Barbara; the composer, singer and creator of eclectic musical theater works Meredith Monk; and the opera soprano Jessye Norman. Ms. La Barbara was sometimes seen in huge video close-ups, intoning vocal sounds and word fragments. During another episode she walked the aisles of the auditorium and gave a present to an audience member whose seat had been selected through some Cagean methodology."
"Ms. Monk’s contribution came mostly through her trademark singing of strange and tender vocal sounds, though during one climactic stretch she intoned the Thoreau maxim The best form of government is no government at all,
which, in the current political climate, came across like a Tea Party slogan."
"And Ms. Norman, looking the glorious diva and sounding radiant, sang fragments of elusive melodic lines. At one point, she played cards with orchestra musicians at a table; at another, she performed rhythmic patterns on that bygone period instrument, the typewriter."
"As the program note explained, Cage allows interpreters complete freedom in the choice of material they will perform on a given occasion.
Mr. Thomas interlaced stretches of some other Cage works, including Concert for Piano and Orchestra and Fontana Mix
"`For this series, part of the orchestra’s centennial celebrations, Mr. Thomas, who has been music director of the San Francisco Symphony since 1995, could have shown off his players in works by Mahler and Beethoven. Instead he adventurously explored the heritage of flinty individualism that runs through American music. The risk paid off, because the hall was packed with eager listeners."
From Parachuting to Land of Post-its and Cage http://goo.gl/U12go