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PYO - Beyond the Cages

22 August 2021
16:00 - 16:30 hrs (GMT+7)


Peter Veale

In collaboration with Studio Musikfabrik


Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music Youth Orchestra (PYO) in collaboration with Studio Musikfabrik (Germany)

John Cage
Concert for Piano and Orchestra

James Tenney
Form 2 (In Memory of John Cage)

Peter Veale


John Cage – Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957 – 1958)

John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957 - 1958) is recognized as one of importance to the music repertoire of the twentieth century. Cage’s “Concert” explored and focused on the idea of indeterminacy, in which the piece is left open to free interpretation based on musical notations where orchestral performers have to execute dynamics, durations, and timbres from their own determinations and perform any pre-selected passages in a soloing manner, while the conductor acts as a chronometer; simulating the movements of hands like a clock. As for the pianist the part consists of 84 different types of notation in coordination with the use of 84 different compositional techniques. The pianist may execute the material in whole or in part, choosing any notations, elements, or parts, and playing them in any order.

The definition of indeterminacy music has been featured ever since during the early twentieth century, especially in many compositions by Charles Ives. From 1930 – the 1950s, the indeterminacy concept began to spread among the American composers started with Henry Cowell who was the very first to adopt Ives’ idea, then followed by “The New York School and Fluxus group”, and consequently to the European compositional figure like Pierre Boulez who popularized the term “Aleatoric Music” or “Chance Music” which featured in many Cage’s compositions. From the 1950s, Cage and his friend, an American pianist and composer, “David Tudor” were working together on the piano series that consisted of the ideas of indeterminacy and Chance Music. During this period, Cage consulted the use of I-Ching – an ancient Chinese divination text (hexagram fortune-telling) in order to create the element of “chance” during the process of compositional creation by tossing the coins (as well as to get away from his personal taste) to select sounds, tempo, duration, length of silences, dynamics, and polyphony density from the musical charts system – the use of I-Ching became one of Cage’s prominent compositional tool which subsequently being acclimated to create many of his mid-late works, including almost all the piano series that David Tudor was responsible for its premiere.

Due to fastidious notation and technical demands which required very precise interpretation, Tudor was known to be the only pianist that Cage willingly to work and collaborate with until the late 1960s when Tudor decided to pursue his compositional career. Despite being the pioneer who performed Cage’s music with advocacy, the others did not find themselves in a similar position. During the premiere of Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra on the 15th of May 1958 at New York Town Hall, the 13 musicians (excluded Tudor) that comprised the orchestra whose conduct Cage described ‘foolish and 'unprofessional’. Their wretched acts include exaggerated corny blues riffs, hitting the stands and laughing at each other, a tuba ostinato from Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, and even long sarcastic applause from the audience.

Although, the issue during the premiere of Concert for Piano and Orchestra was one of many [Bad]circumstances that occurred to Cage during the period 1950s when his works featured with indeterminate notation which contains the element of freedom, however, Cage was not interested in any kind of foolish freedom, in which he described ‘I must find a way to let people be free without their becoming foolish. So that their freedom will make them noble. How will I do this?’

In 1992, Concert for Piano and Orchestra was featured as a part of Cage’s 80th Birthday Celebration Event which was performed by David Tudor and Ensemble Modern. However, the composer was already passed away several weeks before the event.

‘In all my works since 1952, I have tried to achieve what would seem interesting and vibrant to David Tudor. Whatever succeeds in the works I have done has been determined in relationship to him… Tudor was present in everything I was doing.’

John Cage



James Tenney – Form 2 “in memoriam John Cage (1912-1992)”

An American composer, James Tenney was significantly known for his contribution to spectral music (e.g. Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow 1974) and developing the tuning system which includes the extension of just intonation. He was also known to be acquainted with John Cage’s ideology which began in the 1960s when Tenney became one of the active “Fluxus'' members. Despite having several compositional models (e.g. Webern, Ruggles, Varese, Gaburo, Partch, and more), Tenney always remained true to his interest and searched for the relevant practices for his compositional output which made his works unparalleled to any composers before him. However, it was Cage who delivered a strong impact to Tenney’s compositions, especially the works he composed during the 1960s which can be compared with Cage’s indeterminate works, such as Ergodos I & II (1963 – 1964). Hence, some of Tenney’s scholarly works like Computer Music Experiences 1961 - 1964 and others are reflected with Cage’s insights. Thoroughly, very similar to Cage, Tenney was trying to remove his present – self-ego and personal preference from his music.

With John Cage's death in 1992, in the following year, Tenney completed his composition Form II “in memoriam John Cage”, in which the piece is not intended to share a similar element of Cage’s music, even though the notation of the piece expresses a certain degree of indeterminacy. In Tenney’s program notes, he described:

‘No allusion to Cage’s music is intended here, although the degree of indeterminacy in my own work would have been inconceivable before his musical explorations of nature’s manner of operation.’

The world premiere recording of this Form II was made by Ensemble musikFabrik with its initial release in 2003.

[James Tenney’s notes of Form 2]

For a mixed ensemble of woodwinds, brass, strings (bow and plucked), and pitched percussion – the more instruments the better, but no fewer than 16. The players are to be arranged in four groups – in front of, behind, to the left and to the right of the audience – in a way that maintains, as much as possible, an equal distribution of pitch-registers and timbres with respect to spatial location. Each player is equipped with a stopwatch. There is no conductor.

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