John Cage: Uncaged, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

We are, I suspect, in danger of approaching John Cage too reverentially. He is, of course, one of the great anarchists of 20th-century culture, and his immersion in oriental philosophy is often cited as evidence of his seriousness of purpose. We should remember, however, that the Zen masters, with whom he is often compared, were regularly depicted falling about with laughter, and that Cage's anarchy is mixed with joy, playfulness and a teasing sense of fun.

On the last day of the BBC's Cage weekend, the anarchic joy was intermittent. The final concert opened with a gleeful music theatre piece. Frances M Lynch and Nicole Tibbels were a pair of undecorous divas vying for the attentions of pianist Rolf Hind. Cage's insistence on textual improvisation allowed Lynch to address one riotous number to "the heaviness of Betty Boothroyd and J-Lo's bum". Yet the fun was later drowned in solemnity as the BBC Symphony and Pierre-André Valadé took over for performances of the Largo from Lou Harrison's Fourth Symphony and Morton Feldman's lugubrious Cello and Orchestra, with Paul Watkins as soloist.

The London Sinfonietta's concert, meanwhile, proved a strait-laced affair. Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat gave a svelte performance of Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano, although Apartment House 1776, a jubilant cacophony that interweaves 44 US hymn tunes, seemed po-faced when it should have been ebullient.

The best concert of the day, however, was the lunchtime gig at LSO St Luke's. Sections of Cage's Sonatas for Prepared Piano - rooted in oriental aesthetics - were interwoven with unaccompanied choral music, anchoring Cage in a uniquely US musical tradition that links spirituality with musical experimentation. The BBC Symphony Chorus negotiated its way through Ives's bi-tonal harmonies and Alan Hovhaness's snazzy east-European rhythms. Hind was the soloist again, perfectly judging the flickering, gamelan-based inflections of the sonatas as well as communicating the joy Cage felt in creating sounds both unique and new.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

John Cage: Uncaged, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

Andrew Clements

19, Jan, 2004 @4:11 PM

John Cage 100 – review
Celebrating the breadth of Cage's output in his centenary year, these discs highlight some unexplored works, delicately performed

Andrew Clements

06, Dec, 2012 @9:40 PM

John Cage night – review
Cage's music still has an undeniable and at times irresistible force, making the act of listening in itself beautiful, writes Guy Dammann

Guy Dammann

14, Sep, 2011 @6:20 PM

Article image
John Cage and his Musicircus
Peter Dickinson introduces John Cage's glorious anarchic community piece Musicircus, which was performed - if that's the word - at this year's Aldeburgh festival on Sunday 22 June.

Peter Dickinson

20, Jun, 2014 @1:42 PM

Classical preview: John Cage, Huddersfield

Town Hall, Sun 30

Andrew Clements

29, Nov, 2008 @12:01 AM

John Cage: As It Is – review
John Cage's interpretations of texts by EE Cummings and Gertrude Stein are among the highlights of this set of early works, writes Nicholas Kenyon

Nicholas Kenyon

18, Nov, 2012 @12:05 AM

Article image
CD: Cage: Sonatas and Interludes, John Tilbury


Andrew Clements

03, Nov, 2006 @12:18 AM

Article image
John Cage: musicians and artists on a legend

John Cage used plants, liquidisers, radios and even silence to make music. As the Proms prepare to celebrate the centenary of his birth, musicians and artists tell Stuart Jeffries how the composer continues to inspire them

Interviews by Stuart Jeffries

15, Aug, 2012 @5:51 PM

Article image
John Cage: Number Pieces review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
Clearly a labour of love for Apartment House, who play every note of these late works by Cage with wonderful commitment

Andrew Clements

26, Aug, 2021 @5:00 PM

Article image
A mushroom-related brush with mortality: how John Cage fell for fungi
Despite one foraging trip landing him in hospital, the avant garde composer held a lifelong passion for mycology

Sean O’Hagan

19, Aug, 2020 @2:23 PM