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John Cage Festival to Celebrate and Shed Light on His Music

Northwestern festival will feature concerts, two-day symposium and country’s top speakers

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A three-day festival celebrating American composer, artist and author  John Cage -- one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde -- will take place on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus from Nov. 15 to 17.

Cage’s use of chance, electronic sound and silence and his nonstandard use of musical instruments continues to inspire today’s performers and composers.

Presented by the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, the John Cage Festival will feature a two-day symposium hosted by the school’s newly established Institute for New Music. Concert performances by the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, pianist Stephen Drury, and members of So Percussion with acoustic guitarist and vocalist Grey Mcmurray, are also planned.

A major component of the Bienen School’s 10-year strategic plan, the Institute for New Music has been established as a physical, intellectual and performance hub for 20th- and 21st-century art and popular music at Northwestern University. Seeking to elevate the school’s reputation and expand its educational offerings in modern music, the institute will organize major cultural and educational events, including symposia, festivals, workshops and residencies. These activities will provide students with opportunities to interact with and learn from prominent figures in the new music world. Faculty members Hans Thomalla, assistant professor of composition, and Timothy McAllister, associate professor of saxophone, are co-chairs of the Institute.

The symposium will explore the ways Cage challenged contemporary music listeners to think about music and the compositional process. It will include lectures by some of the country’s leading Cage experts. Because of the Northwestern Music Library’s particular strength in holdings of 20th-century classical music, Cage made it the repository for his correspondence -- an extensive body of personal and professional communications spanning more than 50 years -- and a collection of original music manuscripts by Cage and 273 other composers, which were the basis for his groundbreaking 1969 book “Notations.”

D. J. Hoek, head of Northwestern’s Music Library and curator of the John Cage Collection, will make preliminary remarks before a 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 guided tour of “Sound & Silence: John Cage Composing Himself,” University Library’s fall 2012 exhibition, which runs through Dec. 21. Exhibit co-curators Greg MacAyeal, assistant head of the Music Library and Nina Barrett, the library’s communications specialist, will also provide remarks and lead the tour, which features items from the collection to illustrate some of Cage’s major achievements , as well as less examined chapters in his life. For more information, visit

Open to the public, the following Bienen School Cage Festival events will take place on the University’s Evanston campus at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive; Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place; or Deering Library, 1935 Sheridan Road, as noted.

John Cage Festival Events

• The John Cage Festival begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at Lutkin Hall with a performance by pianist Stephen Drury and members of the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, led by Donald Nally, the Bienen School’s new director of choral organizations. Drury has collaborated with composers John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti, Steve Reich, Olivier Messiaen and John Luther Adams and teaches at the New England Conservatory, where he has directed festivals of the music of John Cage, Steve Reich and Christian Wolff. The program features Cage’s solo piano works, including “Prelude for Meditation,” Music for Piano, the solo from “Concert for Piano and Orchestra,” “In a Landscape” and “Etudes Australes,” Book III, as well as his “Hymns and Variations” for 12 singers and 12 microphones. Tickets are $8 for the general public and $5 for students.

• The “Interpreting Cage” symposium begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Lutkin Hall, with a section titled “Rolling Dice: Performing Cage’s Music.” Lecturers include David Nicholls, professor of music at the University of Southampton; Stephen Drury, pianist and conductor at the New England Conservatory; and Adam Sliwinski of So Percussion. The symposium reconvenes at 2 p.m. with a section titled “Influential, Idolized, or Irrelevant? Cage and Current Composing.” The second section features lecturers Seth Brodsky, assistant professor of musicology at the University of Chicago; Julia Robinson, assistant professor of art history at New York University; and a discussion panel of composers, including Nomi Epstein and Northwestern music faculty members Lee Hyla and Hans Thomalla. Admission to both sections of the symposium is free.

So Percussion members, acoustic guitarist and vocalist Grey Mcmurray and Bienen School percussionists will perform at 5:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, in the newly renovated lobby of Northwestern’s Deering Library. The lobby doors to Deering library were recently reopened to the public for the first time in more than 40 years. The library is home to the Cage Collection, the world’s largest treasury of correspondence and ephemera collected by Cage. Music from the collection, including some of the works on this program, will be displayed in the Deering lobby. The Brooklyn-based quartet So Percussion, comprised of Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting, has commissioned works by Steve Reich, David Lang and Glenn Kotche, among others. The program will include Morton Feldman’s “The King of Denmark,” Steve Reich’s “Marimba Phase,” Cage’s “Child of Tree” and “Branches” and Jason Treuting’s “24 x 24.” Mcmurray, who is a regular collaborator with So Percussion, will also perform Beatles songs from Northwestern’s Cage Collection. A reception in the Deering Library lobby will follow. Admission is free.

• The “Interpreting Cage” symposium continues at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Lutkin Hall with the third and final section titled “Who Speaks? Challenges of Interpretation in Cage’s Works.” Lecturers include Charles Junkerman, associate provost and dean, Stanford University; Rob Haskins, associate professor, University of New Hampshire; and Deborah Campana, conservatory librarian, Oberlin Conservatory. After a lunch break, at 2 p.m. D. J. Hoek, head of the Northwestern University Music Library and curator of the John Cage Collection, will make introductory remarks at University Library prior to a guided tour of “Sound & Silence: John Cage Composing Himself,” the library’s fall 2012 exhibition, which runs through Dec. 21. Exhibition co-curators Greg MacAyeal, assistant head of the Music Library, and Nina Barrett, the library’s communications specialist, will speak about the exhibition and lead a guided tour of the “Sound and Silence” exhibit. Admission to the morning symposium and afternoon guided tour is free.

The John Cage Festival concludes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, atPick-Staiger Concert Hall with a performance by So Percussion and electric guitarist Grey Mcmurray, Bienen School percussion students, Turkish laptop composer Cenk Ergun -- who has collaborated with Alvin Curran, the group Alarm Will Sound and Pauline Oliveros -- and the Loud Objects, a duo known for soldering custom audio circuits live to create complex electronic sounds. The program includes John Cage’s “Credo in US,” “First Construction (in Metal),” Quartet for Percussion from “She is Asleep” and “Third Construction,” “Needles” by So Percussion and Matmos, Cenk Ergun’s “Use” and experimental composer and sound artist Tristan Perich’s “Qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq.” Also on the program is Jason Treuting’s “24 x 24” and a simultaneous performance of several short Cage works and Paul McCartney’s “For No One” and “The Word,” written with John Lennon. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $6 for students.

For more information, call the Pick-Staiger Concert Office at (847) 491-5441 or visit To order tickets, call the Pick-Staiger Ticket Office at (847) 467-4000 or visit