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 performers of the Concert are, however, many and baffling, the instrumental techniques required are arcane, and the response of the early performers, if apparently juvenile, is hardly surprising.
This article considers the challenges of performing the Concert, first by examining historical evidence for the early performances, analysing existing recorded performances and considering the performance choices Cage himself made, as conductor. It then draws on material from a major data-collection event with musicians from the ensemble Apartment House, as illustrated through films and discussion at cageconcert.org. The creative possibilities of Cage’s notations, and the ways in which musicians respond to their complexities and ambiguities, are explored, and the authors consider how these perspectives might contribute to a developing performance practice surrounding the work and informing the performance of indeterminate music more widely.