This concert of Cage music was what a concert of experimental music should be. William O. Smith played the serialist-sounding Clarinet Sonata (the first piece that Cage played live in a concert) with technical virtuosity that didn’t detract from the austere beauty of the piece. Neal Kosaly-Meyer gave a performance of “One7” (for one performer producing sounds in any manner) as a spoken-word piece, reciting the ten “thunderwords” from James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” (one of Cage’s favorite text sources). Each of these is essentially a nonsense word but each chimes with subtle overtones and clangs with not-so-subtle references to source words; Neal spoke each of them (from memory) with its own emotions and dynamics (and let the silence between them speak for itelf). In the voice of a lesser “actor”, the effect could have been boring, pretentious, or forced. It was none of these, and the audience was mesmerized by the sounds of the sounds. Exactly what Cage would have wanted.
After the intermission, Melissa Walsh played the delicately beautiful (and vaguely gamelan-ish) “In a Landscape” on the solo harp – a tranquil contrast to the intensity of the vocal piece. Stuart Dempster enacted a bit of serious clowning around for the “Solo for Sliding Trombone” (including several minutes of playing trombone and conch shells in pantomime) and then it all came together for the finale, “Four6”. Again, this is for any manner of producing sounds; here, clarinet, trombone, voice, and harp played a kaleidoscope of fragments against the silences created by their own reverberations. (The players actually chose their sounds independently of the others, yet their synchronicity made it all sound planned – calm harp chords were interrupted by vocal or clarinet squeaks, only to resume; or intense trombone drones were dispelled by percussive sounds from other instruments.) These late “number pieces” of Cage are, in their calm intensity, very close to the late works of Feldman, and they prove once again that even when random elements are used to construct music (or any art form) the results are seldom random.