Sixty years ago, an audience of hundreds of spectators in a grand concert hall were surprised to find that the opening number was four minutes and 33 seconds of sheer silence, with no orchestra member even touching an instrument.
The composer behind the piece was known as John Cage, and this was the kind of avant-garde work that he was famous for.
Cage was a 20th century musician who both taught and composed at UCLA in the 1930s. Cage was famous for pioneering musical movements such as electroacoustic sounds, and this weekend marks his 100th anniversary.
On Sunday, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and the Hammer Museum will put on a program celebrating Cage’s anniversary. Students, faculty and Los Angeles residents alike will assemble at the Hammer to view performances of his works and reflect on his lasting impact in both UCLA and Los Angeles as a whole.
The event will touch on Cage’s influence in the fields of music, dance, theater, literature and media arts.
“Cage is so dominant in music history that you have to deal with him and you have to deal with his revolution,” said UCLA musicology professor Tamara Levitz.
“It intrigues me when composers see a legend like Cage: something that is so much larger than life.”
Levitz will take part in “John Cage’s Legacy in Music,” a panel discussion featuring several other UCLA musicologists in an informal discussion of Cage’s impact, one of many events that will be held during the daylong celebration. The program will feature different performances and panels happening between every half an hour to hour and a half.
Informal lectures will be held by various university professors such as UCLA professor of architecture and history Thomas Hines, who will give a talk on “Becoming Cage: The Los Angeles Years, 1912-1938.” There will also be musical acts such as the piano piece “Two Sides of the Coin,” which will be performed by UCLA music professor Gloria Cheng.
Second-year graduate and cello performance Âstudent Hillary Smith will open the show as part of the LaMi String Quartet, a music group composed of graduate students from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and said that she is excited for this opportunity as she has never played anything by Cage before.
“It’s a very different experience to approach one of his pieces versus a standard quartet by Beethoven. Even though the notes are simple and not complicated, it’s hard to put together because it’s so still and sparse that it’s hard to know what is happening and to hold on to a melody,” Smith said. “A lot of it sounds very similar for a very long period of time, but makes you feel like you’re meditating almost.”
But Cage’s music will not be the only highlight of the night. As Cage was a man who transcended more than just the artistic field of music, people will cover other topics at the program ranging from “John Cage’s Dance Legacy” to “Cage, the Conceptual Poet.” UCLA professor of Design | Media Arts Erkki Huhtamo is one of those people who will be giving a lecture on Cage’s influence in media arts.
“I will remind that his influence was never limited to the field sound and composition,” Huhtamo said. “Cage was essentially a multimedia creator and thinker who did not respect artificial borders between any art forms and modes of creation.”
Huhtamo also said that in addition to hearing her speak about Cage in media arts, students will have the opportunity to learn about forms of non-traditional music.
“Understanding Cage can be a therapeutic and liberating act, no matter what your field may be,” Huhtamo said. “Cage provided a model for living your own life freely, breaking false assumptions and expectations that try to put you in “˜cages.’”
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