This major release marks the first time that all of John Cage's Piano Concertos have been collected on one disc. It is especially valuable because it brings together two of Cage's favorite pianists -- the legendary David Tudor and renowned new-music champion Stephen Drury.
Here Tudor makes a rare appearance as piano soloist with Germany's acclaimed Ensemble Modern for the Concert for Piano and Orchestra. This is the last performance of David Tudor at the piano, recorded at 1992's Cage Festival in Frankfurt (which sadly became a memorial as Cage passed away shortly before the performances).
The Concert for Piano and Orchestra is an ever-expanding galaxy of sonic possibilities with the principle of independence. With no master score; orchestral players may start anywhere in his or her part according to their independently derived timetable. The pianist swims in the same sort of musical aquarium as the orchestra, not only producing traditional sounds on the keyboard, but also playing inside the instrument, along with unspecified auxiliary noise sources. Cage's comment on the expansive and contradictory nature of this sound universe is telling: "The only thing I was being consistent to in this piece was that I did not need to be consistent."
Drury is the soloist for the beautifully exquisite Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra, one of the last works in his early style, and Cage's final work for piano with ensemble, Fourteen. The Concerto is about the conflict between structure and freedom, between improvisation and order which Cage describes as "a drama between the piano, which remains romantic, expressive, and the orchestra, which itself follows the principles of oriental philosophy." With the prepared piano, altered by the insertion of objects between the strings, the pressing of a key yields not a single tone but a complex sonority. At the core of the 22-piece orchestra is a large array of percussion -- including instruments like an amplified slinky, a "water gong" (a Cage invention), and a radio. The orchestra is, in effect, a continuation of the prepared piano whose sonorities follow each other as a "melodic line without accompaniment", to quote Cage. Cage worked extensively with Drury and conductor Charles Peltz in rehearsing this work.
In Fourteen, the instruments play independently from each other; producing only simple pitches, which tend to be either very long or isolated, brief events. The solo piano is not played conventionally, rather its strings are bowed with rosined nylon fishing line, producing an ethereal, mysterious sound. Using the bowed piano's unique sound as a focus, and bracketing and mirroring the achievement of the Concerto for Prepared Piano, Cage creates in Fourteen a music which defines silence and is defined by silence.
John Cage (1912 - 1992)
ReviewsThere are two available recordings of Tudor playing the solo part of Cage's Concert for Piano and Orchestra, one of Cage's most appealing indeterminate works. The performers construct their parts from material that Cage provides, and the piano soloist gets 63 large pages from which to create a part. Tudor uses both piano and live electronics with the Ensemble Modern under Ingo Metzmacher on a 1992 recording, John Cage: The Piano Concertos (mode 57).