Celebrating John Cage at Bard

Jogn Cage (photo by Guido Harari)

The experimental composer John Cage’s cultural importance is so wide-ranging and various – seemingly residing in cultural theory, Zen philosophy, poetry, multimedia and mass-media-baiting every bit as much as in music – that it is sometimes easy to bypass the experience of actually listening to his music, which is a shame. Bard College has been addressing this problem for quite a while with regular Cagecentric programming.

On Saturday and Sunday, September 20 and 21, the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and the John Cage Trust at Bard College present two special concerts featuring works by Cage. On Saturday, September 20, there will be a rare performance of Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things in the Fisher Center’s Theater Two at 8 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. by musicologist James Pritchett. On Sunday, September 21, So Percussion will debut Branches, a new multimedia program at Bard, with a performance of We Are All Going in Different Directions in the Sosnoff Theater at 3 p.m.

So Percussion esteems Cage’s importance highly, writing that “his innovations and accomplishments are truly staggering: He wrote some of the first electric/acoustic hybrid music; the first significant body of percussion music; the first music for turntables; invented the prepared piano; and had a huge impact in the fields of dance, visual art, theater and critical theory.” Indeed, the colorful, elusive and conceptual instructions that Cage prepared for performers of his music have attained their own separate legitimacy in the art world.

Musicologist James Pritchett will give the pre-concert talk for Saturday’s performance of The Ten Thousand Things, a project initiated by John Cage in 1953 involving the composition of independent pieces for various media, each bearing a number title, each capable of being played alone or together with any number of the others. Such an open work could be added to constantly, and since the performing ensemble would not be fixed, Cage’s composition remains perpetually “in progress.”

This performance brings together five of these pieces, spanning the years 1953 to 1956, in a chance-determined musical collage: 59 ½” for a String Player (1953), 45’ for Speaker (1954), 31’ 57.9864” for a Pianist (1954), 26’ 1.1499” for a String Player (1955) and 27’ 10.554” for a Percussionist (1956). Performers for this program include Marka Gustavsson, viola, Laura Kuhn, voice, Garry Kvistad, percussion, Robert Martin, cello and Adam Tendler, piano.

Tickets for The Ten Thousand Things cost $30; tickets for We Are All Going in Different Directions cost $25; and a weekend pass for both events costs $40. Additional program information can be found at https://fishercenter.bard.edu. Tickets can be ordered online at https://fishercenter.bard.edu or by calling the box office at (845) 758-7900.

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