John Cage

John Cage,Morton Feldman and Nils Vigeland (photo Karen Sharman)

John Cage, Morton Feldman and Nils Vigeland at the 8th Street Studio School, April 1987.

I met John Cage for the first time when he came to June in Buffalo in 1975 for a week of lectures and concerts. I was studying with Morton Feldman at the time and Morty introduced me to Cage, who when he discovered I played chess, immediately produced a board for a game. As the game developed, John made a move which would deprive him of his last major piece and certain defeat. I offered him the chance to take back the move, which he first refused, but then accepted and the game resulted in a draw. At the next day's lecture, someone asked him if he ever altered or declined an instruction of a chance operation, to which he quickly replied  "no". Then he turned to me laughing and said, "and  you shouldn't have let me take back that move yesterday!" 

So interesting and delightful was his presence that I began to study his music more and found that the prejudices I had inherited about it from ignorance disappeared. When I founded The Bowery Ensemble in 1981, the music of the New York School, Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff figured prominently in our programs. The concerts took place in the Great Hall of Cooper Union and for our final concert of the first season, Saturday, April 6th, 1982 we produced a 10 hour marathon of Cage's music in honor of his 70th birthday. I awoke the morning of the concert to discover NYC covered in snow. Not only did this threaten the attendance of the event, but also complicated the travel plans of many of the performers coming from out of town. Nevertheless, we got to the hall to set up the instruments and at 11:30 AM went upstairs to open the doors for the noon beginning. Standing at the front of the line of a large crowd waiting to descend the stairs to the hall was Cage, carrying a picnic basket of macro-biotic food to sustain himself for the day. The first thing he did was to offer to read stories from Silence and A Year from Monday  during the changing of setups throughout the day. From that moment on, everything went well. The disaster I had anticipated did not occur. The first seven hours of the day were free but for the final two hour concert, starting at 8 PM, I asked the audience if they would please go to the hall vestibule and purchase a ticket for $5. Cage was first in line and gave us a check for $100. The concert concluded with a performance of his wonderful hour long Sixteen Dances (1951), which became one of our signature pieces. 

On April 2 and 3, 1987, the ensemble gave concerts on two succesive nights at the NY Studio School, the old Gertrude Whitney residence on 8th Street ,in which an early and recent piece of each of the NY School composers was played. All four composers were present for the event, the last time they were together in one place to hear their music. Feldman died the following September. These are the two programs:

April 2, 1987

Christian Wolff Duo for Violins (1950)
Christian Wolff Trio I (1951)
Christian Wolff For Piano I (1952)
John Cage Music For 5 (1984)
Morton Feldman Piano Piece 1952
Morton Feldman Extensions 3 (1952)
Earle Brown Tracer (1985)

April 3, 1987

John Cage Music for 4 (1984)
Earle Brown Folio (1952/53)
Morton Feldman Spring of Chosroes (1977)
Christian Wolff Bowery Preludes (1985)

In August of 1992, a former student of mine visitited with a friend who  was also a composer. When he showed me his work, I commented that it seemed very closely reflective of Cage's late number pieces. He  told me that he was writing his thesis on Cage and admired his music greatly. I asked him if had ever met Cage to which he responded negatively as though shocked by the possibility. I suggested he do so but he seemed to shy to accept the idea. I then informed him that Cage would be at a concert the next day, a Thursday, and that he should go and introduce himself. He did and on the following Friday, he spent four hours with Cage at John's apartment. John died three weeks later.

Above all, John made one glad to be a musician. 







The principle repertoire of the Bowery Ensemble (1980-88) was the music of The New York School,Earle Brown, John Cage,Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff.