On January 31 or February 1 you’ll have the chance to hear music you may have never heard before and may never hear again: CMW presents the third installment of Ars Subtilior, a series on subtlety in experimental music curated by yours truly.
This concert will feature music by three icons of twentieth century experimental classical music: John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff. My guess is that you’ve definitely heard of one of these guys (Cage), might have heard of the other guy (Feldman), and probably never heard of the other (Wolff). Funny thing is, both Cage and Feldman were greatly influenced by Wolff and no wonder, he is quite the Renaissance man: a mostly self-taught composer, an organic farmer, a philosopher, and an expert on Euripedes (among other things). Also, I drank beer with him in Montreal just last year!
According to Wikipedia, Wolff recently said of his work that it is motivated by his desire “to turn the making of music into a collaborative and transforming activity (performer into composer into listener into composer into performer, etc.), the cooperative character of the activity to the exact source of the music. To stir up, through the production of the music, a sense of social conditions in which we live and of how these might be changed.”
In Wolff’s work Stones, performers are instructed to make various sounds with stones for an indefinite amount of time. There is some humor there (he asks the performers to not break anything) but all jokes aside, Wolff is asking all of us to just listen, to open our ears, and hopefully, our minds. It’s more than just the sound of stones you’ll be taking away from this experience.
Feldman is really one of my most favorite composers, gorgeous ethereal stuff. It’s a total honor to perform his music. I originally wanted to program his final chamber work,
Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello (1987), an 80+ minute tour de force, but I had a baby in the meantime and was advised to not take on any more endurance challenges by a much wiser co-worker (Chloe). I’m glad I listened to her because I then came across his much shorter, but equally beautiful work, Four Instruments.
The other composition of Feldman’s on this program, Durations 2 for cello and piano, is an all time favorite and was actually my first introduction to his work. I took part in a modern music cello seminar one summer and each of the participants played through the piece, one person each day, and it never sounded the same. It’s not that we each made the piece our own, it’s not about the personality of the performer coming out, it’s about the aural memory of the listener. He directs the performers to choose the duration of each sound and this in turn confuses the listener’s musical awareness of what had come before. A sort of musical drunkeness, but no hangover.
And who doesn’t like Cage? Ok…lots of people, but I think everyone will enjoy Six Melodies because there are actual melodies and they will be tenderly played by Jesse and Sakiko. Music for Amplified Toy Pianos will be fun.
And yes, it’s okay to have fun at these events. Hope to see you there!
–Laura Cetilia, CMW resident musician and curator, Ars Subtilior