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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Concert Review: Three-Sided Cage

The Flux Quartet's John Cage celebration continues.
Sinister footwear: Merce Cunningham's "John Cage shoes."
by Paul Pelkonen

On Wednesday night at Bargemusic, the Flux Quartet continued their celebration of the tricksome legacy of John Cage, composer, iconoclast and maverick of modernity whose works continue to baffle listeners (and sometimes, players) today.) The first part of the program held an early, familiar work. The second and third explored difficult, gnarled sounds: what the casual listener thinks of when they hear the name "John Cage."

And sometimes they run away.

The String Quartet in Four Parts is a refreshing surprise to anyone expecting nothing but noise terror from this particular composer. Here, the writing is more conventional, almost dreamy. Its sounds are stretched, pulled apart and then knotted back together as the composer strove toward a new way of making music.

The Flux players created a performance of grace and great beauty here, paying fitting tribute to the composer's early period.

And it's rather pretty.

The Solos from the Concert for Piano and Orchestra consisted of the Flux players drawing out "melodic" lines from that thoroughly unconventional non-piano-concerto that the composer gave the world in 1958. These lines were more like free jazz, with pauses in between to make way for the (inaudible, as they were not present) other instruments.

The players were accompanied by chance-created sounds around the barge, tourists outside, the flow and lap of the East River, the arrival of an occasional water taxi, and on two occasions, the distinctive whoosh of the toilet located toward the rear of the Barge. Cage might have loved the random additions.

John Cage's 30 Pieces for String Quartet (1983) is another unconventional creation drawn from his indeterminacy method. The pieces are hard to distinguish from one another, and vary in length and tempo. They come rapidly upon each other, consisting of indeterminately chosen chords, scrapes and plucks on the four instruments.

This was my first experience with this late Cage effort. I will say that thirty minutes of strange noises from the four players of the Flux Quartet was not an easy experience, even in the pleasant atmosphere of the coffee barge. But all things come to an end, and as the work continued, I let the complex sound-world emerge from the fragments of noise being created by the four players

Perhaps the best way to think of this the work was as a four-way board game, with each player making a calculated move from their instrument, adding complexity to the pattern. Maybe Cage would say I'm being too cerebral. Anyway, half an hour in, the  timers on the players' iPhones determined that the performance had, indeed ended.

And we clapped.

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