Out Of The Cage: A centennial celebration of John Cage and friends at Trinity Laban Conservatoire
Hosted and performed by students and lecturers of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, this event was organised by artistic director Stephen Montague, with strong support from the composition department and other faculties from Trinity Laban. When asked what the day was all about Stephen Montague provided us with a fantastic overview of the event.
“Today is the celebration of John Cage and Conlen Nancarrow’s centennials, both born in 1912, Cage a month ahead of Nancarrow. A celebration and commemoration of two wonderful men. Certainly John Cage one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, a wide variety of his work here being on display, […] including the UK premiere of a piece that hasn’t been done since 1942. […] It’s a big massive ten hour celebration of two great men.”
The first set concert of the day saw performances of John Cage’s Valentine Out Of Season and the controversial 4’33”. Also in the programme was the spirited (and most enjoyable we must say) performance of Aria by vocalist Catherine Carter, and a humorous rendition of Living Room Music, performed by four students with a variety of every day objects including cardboard boxes and newspapers. The 1988 piece Five for five voices was wonderfully spatialised, with vocalists positioned all around the room. Four percussionists took on the 1941 composition Third Constructionwith an assortment of instruments, using some unusual items including tin cans.
Between set concerts, a variety of installations throughout the building were available to explore at the audience’s pleasure. These included separate student compositions performed in the hallways, along with experiences set up in practice rooms, left to run for the entire day. The loggia area saw several performances (including an impressive piece featuring ten harps), along with projectors and the head of the institute’s composition faculty cooking up a sublime mushroom on toast taster. Dancers used the entire courtyard space in the centre of the grounds as a continuous stage throughout the day, working with movement both as individuals and dancing together in small groups. Other solo performers were wandering throughout the buildings in stunning ball gowns performing as what seemed like opera divas. This brought the audience directly into the action as all these performers made a distinct effort to engage and interact with them. Several groups also took to the courtyard to perform set pieces including saxophone and brass ensembles.
With tourists and the general public being drawn into the courtyard and building by all the strange sounds coming from the various halls and rooms the event soon became crowded. Many more people squashed into the theatre studio for the next installment of programmed material. The second concert saw for performance of works by Schoenberg (one of Cage’s teachers), Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow, Christian Wolff, Morton Feldmen, James Tenney, plus an ensemble rendition of Cage’s 4’33”.
The second break saw the venue once again burst into live, resuming the vast amount of activity dotted around the place. A particular gem was a student-performed rendition of Terry Riley’s In C, followed by what seemed like a random cabaret act, dressed all in black and lace with piano accompaniment. The sheer amount going on at this event, coupled with the interactive aspect and the constant smell of cooking made for a most enjoyable and interesting experience. The eye to detail throughout was amazing and no exhibit felt more of less importance; each one wanting to be explored. A few humorous aspects jumped out, including the busts in one room wearing John Cage facemasks. A little giggle for sure.
The cafe (later in the evening hosting the Happening Finale) provided a great place to refresh, although even this space was not free of performers; the free wandering opera singers often drifting into this area. A pianola was playing continually on one side, Trinity students constantly changing over the rolls from a range of repertoire. Towards the front of the building a reception area and separate room were dedicated to two starkly different installations. The entrance saw a black sheet engulf a small area where a performer gently brushed a cactus with a powder brush, the resulting sound put through a variety of electronic filters producing a bizarre and interesting sound world. Next door a jazz pianist accompanied a creative art installation as two artists created works alongside a mantelpiece topped with various radios tuned to different stations.
With performers and performances here there and everywhere, this was a jumbled ball of activity that, throughout its ten hour running time, never got boring. With constant set changes there were instances where performers were carrying equipment through dance routines, at points even the audience having to dash through the action. This seemed to break down that barrier between performer and observer; the result being a more relaxed and interactive experience. With everything happening at the same time the sound overlaps throughout the building were simply stunning.
The final concert of the evening saw the UK premiere of The City Wears a Slouch Hat, bringing to an end a most exciting and enjoyable day. A fitting tribute to John Cage and to all of the performers and composers featured. This was a wonderful platform for new composers to have their pieces performed throughout the day as well as a great opportunity for the general public to delve into the world of 21st-century classical music.
For further information and future events visit Trinity Laban’s website here.