photo credit: Jack Mitchell
Sixty years ago, radical composer John Cage challenged the classical music world by writing pieces that broke the rules. The Davis-based Empyrean Ensemble recently honored the late composer with original music inspired by his legacy.
Picture a pianist in a tuxedo. After an expectant hush, he plays. . .
(toy piano music)
. . . on a toy piano with nine keys. That’s the kind of iconoclastic attitude composer John Cage brought to music.
Cage’s most famous piece is titled Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds. It consists of three movements, in which the musicians sit down, get ready. . . (*pause*) and never play a note. Zen masters smile when the piece is performed.
Empyrean’s Sam Nichols teaches music at UC Davis. He loves telling stories about Cage.
“He gave a talk on his music and his philosophy, and then opened up the floor to questions from the audience, with the stipulation that he was going to answer six questions, but one answer he had already written up beforehand. (Laughs)”
Cage wanted people to reconsider what constitutes art. With that in mind, Sunday’s concert features a new piece by Luciano Chessa, including a flying mini-blimp, and an amplified musical saw.
A lot of people these days think of John Cage as a philosopher, who lived in music. He died sixteen years ago, but his legacy continues to inspire others to stir things up.
The Empyrean Ensemble performed "in tHe sPirit oF CAGE" on Sunday, January 13th at 7 p.m. in the Mondavi Center's Studio Theatre