Agitating the Discipline: performing Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra

  • Philip Thomas (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


The premiere of John Cage’s Concert for Piano and orchestra (1957–58) is notorious for being disrupted by the behaviour of the orchestral musicians, decried by Cage as ‘foolish and unprofessional’. The interpretative options available to the performers are, however, many and at times baffling. How these possibilities are experienced and operate in practice reveals a great deal about individual and ensemble approaches to performing indeterminate music. This paper considers performing the Concert firstly by considering historical evidence for the early performances, and secondly by drawing on material from a major data collection event with musicians from the ensemble Apartment House, combined with my own experiences as a pianist performing the extravagant piano solo. Finally, the creative possibilities of Cage’s notations are considered in relation to two newly developed apps (launched in 2018 as part of an AHRC-funded project about Cage’s Concert) and how these might contribute to a developing performance practice surrounding the work and to the performance of indeterminate music more widely.
Period19 Mar 2019
Held atUniversity of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational