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Bard College Hosts Symposium on Avant-Garde Composer and Artist John Cage, October 30–November 1

Highlights Include Two Concerts of John Cage’s Works Performed by
Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Celebrated Percussion Ensemble Nexus at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—From Friday, October 30 through Sunday, November 1, Bard College will host The John Cage at Bard College Symposium, celebrating the life and work of the avant-garde composer, writer, and artist. “One cannot overstate the importance of John Cage and his work, and its impact on 20th-century music, art, and culture,” says Bard College President Leon Botstein. Three days of performances, class presentations, scholarly talks, and panels relating to John Cage will be accompanied by ongoing film screenings in Weiss Cinema and an installation of Cage’s Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake in Bard’s Chapel of the Holy Innocents.

The highlight of the weekend will be two concerts of Cage’s chamber and percussion works. On Friday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m., Bard College Conservatory of Music students and faculty will perform a program of Cage’s chamber works. This event is free and open to the public. On Saturday, October 31 at 8:00 p.m., legendary Toronto-based percussion ensemble Nexus will perform a program of Cage’s percussion works. Tickets for this event are $15. Both performances will be in the Sosnoff Theater of The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.

On Friday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m., students and faculty of The Bard College Conservatory of Music will perform chamber works by John Cage including Inlets (for conch shells and burning pine cones) (1977); Five Dances for String Quartet (arr. Salzman, 1996-97); Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard (1950); Three Songs for Voice and Piano (“Twenty years after,” “If it was to be,” “At East and ingredients,” Gertrude Stein, 1932–33); The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942); Nowth upon Nacht (1984); A Flower (1950); Radio Music (1956); String Quartet in Four Parts (1950); Eight Whiskus (for solo violin) (1985); Two (for flute and piano) (1987); and The Beatles 1962–1970 (for 1-6 pianists) (1989). On Saturday, October 31 at 8:00 p.m., Nexus, with special guest artists Jason Treuting and Frank Corliss, will perform percussion works by John Cage including Amores (1940), Credo in US (1942), Chess Pieces (1944), Dance Music for Elfrid Ide (1940), Third Construction (1941), and The Invisible Proverb (by Russell Hartenberger, 2002).

For tickets or more information about the Fisher Center events, please call 845-758-7900 or visit

For symposium schedule and more information on The John Cage at Bard College Symposium, please visit or contact the John Cage Trust at 845-835-8022.

About John Cage
John Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912. He studied with Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolph Weiss, and Arnold Schoenberg. In 1938 he began working as an accompanist for dance and as a teacher at the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. It was here that he first met the dancer Merce Cunningham, with whom he would have a lifelong working relationship. Together they were responsible for a number of radical innovations in musical and choreographic compositions, such as the use of chance operations and the independence of dance and music. Cage was musical adviser for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company until his death in New York City on August 12, 1992.

In the 1940s, Cage moved to New York and joined a group of avant-garde artists, including Cunningham and painters Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. During this period, Cage became interested in Eastern religions, particularly Zen, and while his compositions continued his use of carefully structured segments of time, he began to fill them in with materials derived by chance processes (the rolling of dice, the use of the I Ching, and other methods). In perhaps the ultimate statement of this aesthetic, he wrote 4'33', a piece of total silence on the part of the performer into which the random sounds of the world enter. In 1952, at Black Mountain College, he presented a theatrical event considered by many to have been the first “Happening.” In 1958, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Emile de Antonio organized a 25-year retrospective concert of his music at Town Hall in New York.

Cage was the recipient of many awards and honors, beginning in 1949 with a Guggenheim Fellowship and an award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for having extended the boundaries of music through his work with percussion orchestra and his invention, in 1940, of the prepared piano. He was awarded membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1978) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1989); named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Legion d’Honneur (1982), and was laureate of the Kyoto Prize given by the Inamori Foundation (1989), and recipient of an honorary doctorate in performing arts the California Institute of the Arts (1986). Cage was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. The 1991 Zurich June Festival was devoted to the work of John Cage and James Joyce.

Cage is the author of Silence, A Year from Monday, M, Empty Words, and X (all published by the Wesleyan University Press). I-VI (the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures delivered at Harvard and published by Harvard University Press) includes transcripts of the question-and-answer periods that followed each lecture, and an audiocassette of Cage reading one of the six lectures. Conversations with Cage, a book-length composition of excerpts from interviews by Richard Kostelanetz, was published in 1988 by Limelight Editions. Cage’s music is published by the Henmar Press of C. F. Peters Corporation and has been recorded on many labels.

Since 1958, many of Cage’s scores have been exhibited in galleries and museums. A series of 52 watercolors, the New River Watercolors, executed by Cage at the Miles C. Horton Center at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, was shown at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. in 1990. Cage/Cunningham, a documentary film on the collaboration of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, partly funded by PBS, under the direction of Elliot Caplan, was produced in 1991 by the Cunningham Dance Foundation.

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This event was last updated on 10-14-2009