March’s Modern Music Month

Monday evening, the fifth of March, was the start of Portland’s month-long celebration of modern music. Celebration and cerebration, as this evening’s events included a panel discussion with a few of Portland’s prominent musical thinkers.

But first, Robert McBride introduced a “performance” of John Cage’s 4’33” (by all of us). This piece really could have used a performer to focus on. It didn’t look to me that any but a few of us, three?, were really paying any attention at all to all the various sounds that happened in that time. And very interesting and various they were, to be sure. But no one seemed to know what to do or how to take it. A performer would have helped, I think.

Cage’s piece may indeed be almost 60 years old (prompting another panelist to opine that a piece that old shouldn’t be called “modern” any more), but it can still piss people off, beginning with one of the panel members walking out to catch a four and a half minute smoke in the lobby and returning to offer her opinion that Cage was a sham. Unfortunately, that’s about all that came across about Cage. No real, substantive conversation about his contributions to music or to his continuing influence on current artists–and that in spite of Mr. McBride’s gallant efforts.

And the delightful performance of Cage’s charming Suite for toy piano was overshadowed by louder and flashier performances of louder and splashier music. Too bad.

At least one of the loud and splashy things was the superb Psappha, a much more nuanced piece than “loud and splashy” describes, of course, and sensitively performed by Florian Conzetti. And, appropriately enough, Psappha includes several quite long silences, which tied the show together musically with evening’s opener.

A mixed show, and not always a successful mix, but still quite entertaining on the whole. Looking forward to the rest of March in Portland, OR.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 8, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    hey michael,

    thanx for your coverage & cagey comments. yes, john is in for the duration – continuing to provoke, inspire & annoy.

    i’m REALLY looking forward to your MMM evening with the glorious Hildegard Westerkamp!

    thanx for being such a huge part of this year’s festspiel.



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