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While it seems like we couldn't go a week or two without running across a performance of a Cage piece this year—which one rarely had the chance to experience during an entire calendar year before 2012—it seems like there have also been just as many recordings of his work, both new and archival. This past spring, composer Nomi Epstein organized a terrific Cage festival that focused on multiple aspects of the composer's work. It kicked off with a performance of Sonatas & Interludes (1946-'48), one of Cage's most satisfying and enduring works, by Eliza Garth. It's a masterpiece for prepared piano—with specific instructions on how to insert various bolts, screws, erasers, and pieces of plastic inside of the instrument—that also marked the end of an aesthetic period for the composer, after which he largely broke free of fully plotted scores and mathematical form.
There might be some others, but I've heard three terrific renderings of the work released this year, and it's been fascinating to listen to them one after the other. There's no way the various materials used to prepare the piano will be identical, so each key strike produces a different sonority, sustain, and ambience, and each musician brings a different touch. I love the 2002 reading by the composer James Tenney (who died in 2006) released this year, for the first time, by Hat Art. It was a 1951 encounter with Sonatas & Interludes, played by the composer himself in Denver, Colorado, that pushed Tenney toward a career in music—his version of the piece is played at a much brisker pace than normal, and compared with the other two recordings I mention below his take is much more metallic, metronomic, and pingy, in the best possible ways. It feels downright electric, with the pianist really ripping into the music with percussive gusto (Cage's use of prepared piano was partly undertaken to write music for dance pieces, which allowed him both percussive and melodic latitude). Below you can listen to Tenney's version of "Sonata 12."
Lastly, in other Cage news, the third and latest issue of the excellent online experimental-music journal Sound American, edited by trumpeter Nate Wooley for the invaluable streaming-music service DRAM, is devoted exclusively to the composer. Particular attention is paid to Cage's late number pieces, which are often given short shrift. There are a slew of solo versions of various number pieces by folks like David Grubbs, Andrea Parkins, C. Spencer Yeh, Nick Hennies, Machinefabriek, Audrey Chen, and Chicago's own Katherine Young (whose "solo" piece also features Jenna Lyle) among others, as well as writings by members of the Jack Quartet and the BSC. There's an enthusiasm and passion in the writing that's infectious and has the potential to win over those most skeptical of Cage's work.
The Last Hurrah!!, Spiritual Non-Believers (Rune Grammofon)
Oskar Schönning, Belgrade Tapes (Schönning)
Various artists, A Fine Time! The South Side of Soul Street (Sundazed)
Mark Hanslip & Javier Carmona, Dosados (Babel)
Ismael Rivera con Kako y Su Orquesta, Lo Ultimo en la Avenida (Tico/Fania)