Scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 6, and Wednesday, Nov. 7, this year’s celebration will spotlight music of would-be centenarian composer, John Cage (1912-1992), perhaps America’s most widely recognized avant-garde composer and thinker of the 20th century.
The festival also will feature “New Music from Down Under.”
This seemingly unrelated juxtaposition is thoroughly logical when one considers that the festival will welcome the Queensland, Australia-based new music duo, Clocked Out.
Erik Griswold, pianist and composer, and Vanessa Tomlinson, percussionist, are two of today’s most innovative, daring and thought-provoking musicians on the international contemporary music scene.
Their studies at the University of San Diego allowed them to create strong roots in the United States; as a result they are regularly on tour throughout this country, treating their audiences to powerfully compelling yet always delightful performances of their own music.
Meanwhile, their compositions are largely inspired by their improvisational skills and regular projects as improvising musicians. They trace an enormous inspiration to the work and life of Cage, so much so that they curated “The Cage in Us,” an international celebration of Cage’s influence. The gala was held this past April in Brisbane.
Events on the NIU New Music Festival schedule:
Tuesday, Nov. 6
- 11 a.m. All-School of Music Convocation with Clocked Out
- 7 p.m. John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” featuring the NIU School of Music Faculty All-Stars
- 8 p.m. Concert Program 1: Music of John Cage/Music from Down Under
Wednesday, Nov. 7
- 7 p.m. Pre-concert lecture on new music from Australia with the Clocked Out Duo
- 8 p.m. Concert Program 2: Music of John Cage/Music from Down Under
Thursday Nov. 8
- 11 a.m. Improvisation/Percussion Clinic with Vanessa Tomlinson
Throughout these events, the Clocked Out Duo will provide students and concert-goers alike with multiple opportunities to be challenged and engaged by new music making and thinking.
Whereas most university percussion programs talk about their offerings in terms of career paths, diversity of skills, excellence, etc., Tomlinson, head of Percussion Studies at the Queensland Conservatorium at Griffith University, says this of her percussion studies department: “Students in the percussion department will learn that their marimba was once a tree.”
This bold yet tender statement flies in the face of conventional context and is a clear indication of the Clocked Out’s ability to inspire with simplicity, sensitivity and grace.
Yet make no mistake. Tomlinson’s musical ability is nothing short of jaw-droppingly virtuosic, as audiences will witness Wednesday evening when she performs, “Mutant Theatre, Act 2,” one of a series of solo percussion works by young Australian composer Anthony Pateras.
Even Tomlinson’s seemingly unique quote about percussion study can ultimately be traced to the thinking of John Cage.
On the evening of the Nov. 7 program, Beyer, artistic director of the festival, will open the program with a performance of Cage’s solo percussion work from 1985, “Child of Tree,” a composed improvisation that involves plant-based instruments such as an amplified cactus, a seed pod rattle from the poinciana tree from southern Mexico and similar plant materials. These delicate sounds are then organized into an eight-minute improvisation, decisions about which are determined using oracle readings from the i-Ching, the “book of changes.”
Indeed, Cage was heavily influenced by philosophy and thought from around the globe.
Those interested in this side of John Cage should plan on attending the offering Cage’s now famous “Lecture on Nothing,” from which comes the ubiquitous Cage quote, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” Composed in musical fashion, with clear rhythmic and numerical formal structure, this lecture from 1950 helped shape the musical avant-garde of the mid-20th century in a powerful way. The lecture will be delivered by an “all-star ensemble” of NIU School of Music faculty, organized by Robert Fleisher.
The festival concerts on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings are full of excellent and diverse musical offerings from John Cage and four Australian composers: Erik Griswold, Anthony Pateras, Gerard Brophy and Cat Hope.
Hope’s wonderful composition for quintet features a graphic score that will be projected for both the ensemble and the audience to “interpret.” She has developed an automated score player that determines the tempo of the work, and audiences will be able to trace the five musicians and their parts as the music unfolds.
One of Cage’s most widely recognized musical innovations is the invention of the prepared piano – a manner of turning the piano into a “percussion ensemble” through the use of various screws, wrenches, nuts, bolts and other similar items that are to be inserted into the piano’s strings to create unique timbres. Cage was painstaking in his charts and details for the preparation of the piano for each and every piece where he used it.
The festival finale will feature the Clocked Out Duo working with an orchestra made up of the New Music Ensemble students in a performance of Cage’s rarely performed “Concerto for Piano (Prepared)” and “Chamber Orchestra in Three Parts” (1950/1951). Griswold will perform the concerto solo part for prepared piano and Tomlinson will conduct the ensemble.
All events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Beyer at (815) 753-7981 or [email protected].