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Cage Festival Celebrates Controversial Artist's Legacy

By Eamonn Morris in Arts & Culture

The week of October 8th saw CU’s College of Music celebrate the work of a larger-than life composer: The American experimentalist John Cage. The college has made an annual tradition of performing the music of an influential, contemporary composer. In 2009 the annual, week-long festival saw the music of George Crumb, whose compositions are colorful and extremely difficult to play; and in 2010 the music of German revolutionary Karlheinz Stockhausen was performed, including the monumental electronic work “Cosmic Pulses.”

This year’s Cage Festival, which ran from the 8th to the 13th, comes at an appropriate time. The composer would have celebrated his 100th birthday on September 5th.

Cage is known as the champion of Indeterminacy in music, and is responsible for the (in)famous “silent” piece, 4’33”, which consists of the pianist sitting in front of the piano, without playing, for the allotted time (The piece was performed Tuesday.) Tuesday the 9th’s faculty concert also saw renowned piano faculty perform Cage’s prepared piano works inside Grusin Hall, in which coins, paper clips, bits of paper, nails, and other objects are inserted into the piano strings to alter the sound. Several different performers divided up the Sonatas and Interludes for the prepared piano, with Andrew Cooperstock giving the movements he played a hard, mechanical edge, while David Korevaar brought out the dreamlike, opaque detachment inherent in the softer sections.

Friday’s concert saw the Quartet performed in the ATLAS Black Box, where the component parts of a grand piano are plucked and strummed (the public dismantlement of the piano took place Thursday the 11th,) and Atlas Eclipticalis, a piece where performers read star charts. The festival included appearances from the Third Coast Percussion Ensemble, who played Wednesday and Friday nights. One of the highlights of their residency was Renga Cage, where they not only played a variety of percussion instruments (including crystal goblets, a variety of gongs, pieces of wood, etc,) but also yelled, stomped, called people on their phones, and ate fortune cookies. The festival concluded with a very unusual public concert on the Pearl Street Mall on Saturday the 13th, where no musicians played and the audience was left to listen to the natural sounds arising around them. The annual Fink lecture was given on Cage during the Festival, as was a colloquium on his legacy.

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