• On Vanishing (Bokaer-Cage)

Photo © Michael Hart, 2011

Just over a year ago, in The Cello in Art (3), I posted about the American choreographer Jonah Bokaer, who had just premiered a piece to music by John Cage at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. To mark the centenary today of the birth of John Cage, I’m posting a link to a video of that performance of On Vanishing which I discovered yesterday on YouTube.  All the info is on the YouTube site, except to observe that Bokaer himself does not appear until around four and a half minutes before the end.

• Markevitch conducting Ravel

Thanks again to my friend Justin in Madrid, I’ve been watching a video from 1965 of Igor Markevitch conducting Ravel’s Suite no.2 from Daphnis et Chloé in Japan.  It’s electrifying.

Next week, I’m going to see Rattle conducting the Berlin PO at the Proms, and the Ravel ends their first programme. It will make for an interesting comparison.  But I bet Rattle’s baton will be a good deal shorter.

• Silence is Relative

Listening to the adventurous and surprisingly fulfilling radio experience of tonight’s John Cage Prom, I’ve been reminding myself of my own encounters with him and his music.

Back in the 1970s, when I was teaching at Queen’s University, Belfast, I performed Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes. This was a challenging proposition, not least interpreting his requirements for the preparation of the piano.  His list of inserted items was one of found objects, so I followed suit, using bolts, nuts, and other items that came closest to his own treasure hunt thirty years earlier.  Hence, as is clear from the photo above, plastic rawl plugs and the rubber feet of music stands, cut in half.  It was a memorable evening, at least for me, as the pitch relationship between keyboard and soundboard was contrary to custom and practice!

Later, in the early 1990s, when I was working at BBC Radio 3, I went to New York for the ‘Bang On A Can’ festival. Through my friends Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon and David Lang, who founded the festival in 1987, I had an opportunity to meet Cage. His gentleness of spirit was legendary, and so it was on that occasion.  The only other composer who has come near to this, in my own experience, has been Jonathan Harvey.  Both have a profound spiritual and philosophical understanding that makes my interest in Zen Buddhism mere dabbling.

The encounter with Cage that made the most impact took place when I was much younger, when I was an undergraduate.  With my fellow student Jolyon Laycock, I made a trip down to London to spend an afternoon with John Cage and his longtime collaborator, the pianist David Tudor.  The venue was a large theatre, now the multi-screen Odeon Cinema, in Shaftesbury Avenue.  We sat in the Gods, looking down on Tudor operating ring-modulation equipment in the pit and a quasi drawing-room on stage.  There were two rows of small pictures, one above the other, in identically sized frames hanging across the stage and with an armchair in front.

On came Cage, book in hand.  Silence.  He sat down and began to read.  Within a minute, Tudor started to apply ring-modulation to Cage’s voice and soon the text became unintelligible.  We were participating in a happening with John Cage.  It felt as if we were in the vortex of contemporary music and culture.  I have no idea how long the event lasted – maybe two hours?  I remember the audience becoming increasingly agitated, shouting, whistling, throwing their programmes in the air.  It was mayhem, in which Cage and Tudor, cool as cucumbers, did what they set out to do.  Then, without warning, Cage got up and walked off.  The end.

Or so I thought.  We emerged onto Shaftesbury Avenue at rush hour.  But such had been the torrent of sound inside the theatre that I heard no traffic noise.  There was silence at that moment.  Although this impression was transient, its aesthetic significance was profound.  And I remain eternally grateful Cage for this simple gift of enlightenment.

• Also

I was reminded the other day of a concert I played in many years ago, at the end of a particularly riotous student orchestral weekend somewhere deep in the Berkshire/Oxfordshire countryside.  If there had been smart phones back then, a pic of the poster would have been whizzing around social media.  It was quite a programme.

Romeo and Juliet  Tchaikovsky

Symphony  Webern


Sprach Zarathustra  Strauss


• Along in the Sun and the Rain

A reflective song to mark the centenary of the birth of Woody Guthrie.

The meteorological topicality is coincidental.

• Dudley Moore Trio

Three of my prized possessions are the first LPs that Decca issued of the Dudley Moore Trio: The Other Side of Dudley Moore (1965), Genuine Dud (1966) and The Dudley Moore Trio (1969).  Sadly, these LPs have never been released as individual CD albums and you have to search around for some of the tracks.  The Other Side remains my favourite and features five of Moore’s own compositions: ‘Lysie Does It’, ‘Poova Nova’, ‘Take Your Time’, ‘Sooz Blooz’ and ‘Sad One for George’.

The skies have been very grey today, so to bring a belated ray of sunshine here’s Moore playing ‘My Blue Heaven’, written by Walter Donaldson in 1924 with lyrics by George Whiting.  It’s not the version included on The Other Side but a live performance given during his comedy show with Peter Cook, Not Only… But Also, probably in 1966.  Chris Karan is on drums, Pete McGurk on bass.  They were a phenomenally gifted trio, relaxed, inspired and cool.

• Arnold Böcklin Self-Portrait (1872)

I’ve been fascinated by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin for years and was very excited when I saw so much of his work in Basle a few years ago (though this self-portrait was not there – it’s in Berlin).  I’d known his Isle of the Dead (1886) in association with Rachmaninoff’s wonderful symphonic poem of 1908.

This upload has a cover photo that’s not really appropriate for the piece, but it’s a fascinating audio document.  The composer recorded The Isle of the Dead with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1929.  As I believe is quite typical of performances of his own works, it is brisker and less indulgent than many others.

Oh yes, Böcklin’s self-portrait. He painted it in 1872 and it has come to haunt me recently, though not in a lugubrious way.  Happily, he lived for another 29 years after he made it.


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