6th July 2017

Apartment House
John Cage & Christian Wolff

Event Information

Sixty years after Cage began composing his most extensive and ambitious compendium of indeterminate and graphic notations, the Concert for Piano and Orchestra remains something of a mystery. Often discussed and presented visually for its stunning array of unusual and elaborate notations, it is all too rarely performed, especially in a large ensemble version, as here, with conductor (acting as timepiece).

As a companion work to the Concert…, celebrated American composer Christian Wolff, close associate of Cage, has been commissioned to write a new work for Apartment House. The result, RESISTANCE, for pianist and ten or more instruments, is to be premiered July 1st in Leeds, and this is the second performance. Like Cage, however, Wolff celebrates performances as unique events, and the openness of his scores produces music which refuses repetition. Both works question the nature of ensemble, how musicians and sounds relate one to another, form and structure in ways that, like Wolff’s title, seem increasingly vital to contemporary life.

For over 20 years Apartment House has been captivating audiences with its performances of experimental and contemporary music. The group has performed all over Europe, from Oslo to Rome and from Barcelona to Vilnius, and is a firm feature on the British concert scene, with regular performances at Café Oto and a residency at the Wigmore Hall. Apartment House is the most frequently featured UK ensemble in the history of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and its John Cage portrait concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, won the group a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for outstanding contribution to Chamber Music and Song.

John Cage – Concert for Piano and Orchestra
Christian Wolff – RESISTANCE

Apartment House
Philip Thomas / piano
Jack Sheen / conductor

Christian Wolff RESISTANCE commission by Apartment House funded by the Ernst von Siemens Foundation and the Hinrichsen Foundation.

Composition commission by Apartment House funded by Ernst Von Siemens Music Foundations and the Hinrichsen Foundation.

Thirty Three Thirty Three create exploratory and inventive arts and music events around the globe. Alongside their flagship series of London concerts St John Sessions, they have programmed events in London, Ghana, Beirut and Cairo. In 2016, they established Masåfåt in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), an open-ended international platform fostering artistic and professional exchange between independent artists and arts professionals across the Arab world and the UK.

Event Details
7:30 pm
11:00 pm
This event takes place at St John Church of Hackney

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John Cage

John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 — August 12, 1992) was an American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher, and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.

Cage is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″, which is performed in the absence of deliberate sound; musicians who present the work do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not “four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” as is often assumed, but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience during performance. The work’s challenge to assumed definitions about musicianship and musical experience made it a popular and controversial topic both in musicology and the broader aesthetics of art and performance. Cage was also a pioneer of the prepared piano (a piano with its sound altered by objects placed between or on its strings or hammers), for which he wrote numerous dance-related works and a few concert pieces. The best known of these is Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48).

His teachers included Henry Cowell (1933) and Arnold Schoenberg (1933–35), both known for their radical innovations in music, but Cage’s major influences lay in various East and South Asian cultures. Through his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s, Cage came to the idea of aleatoric or chance-controlled music, which he started composing in 1951. The I Ching, an ancient Chinese classic text on changing events, became Cage’s standard composition tool for the rest of his life. In a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music, he described music as “a purposeless play” which is “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living”.

Christian Wolff

Wolff was born in Nice, France, to the German literary publishers Helen and Kurt Wolff, who had published works by Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, and Walter Benjamin. After relocating to the U.S. in 1941, they helped to found Pantheon Books with other European intellectuals who had fled Europe during the rise of fascism. The Wolffs published a series of notable English translations of European literature, mostly, as well as an edition of the I Ching that came to greatly impress John Cage after Wolff had given him a copy.

Wolff became an American citizen in 1946. When he was sixteen his piano teacher Grete Sultan sent him for lessons in composition to the new music composer John Cage. Wolff soon became a close associate of Cage and his artistic circle, which included the fellow composers Earle Brown and Morton Feldman, the pianist David Tudor, and the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cage relates several anecdotes about Wolff in his one-minute Indeterminacy pieces.

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