John Cage's Organ2/ASLSP in marathon performance
I stopped by during the 10th hour of Diane Luchese's extraordinary marathon performance yesterday of John Cage's Organ2/ASLSP in the rather harshly lit Kaplan Concert Hall at Towson University's Center for the Arts. With five more hours to go, the organist showed no signs of fatigue.
There were a dozen listeners when I arrived, and four by the time I left. A glance at the guest book in the lobby revealed that a sizable number of folks had stopped by earlier, leaving a variety of remarks, from "Eek" and "Too slow for me" to "Very cool" and "Awesome." A few people sampled the performance more than once during the day. I hope Luchese still had some company by the time of the 11:41 p.m. finale. (Written rests in the score provided her with break time; she could also have some refreshments while still at the organ, during passages that required only her feet to be employed on the pedals, or when notes could be produced by the use of lead weights placed on the keys.) Listeners were invited to roam about the hall, sampling the sound from different angles, or consult a copy of the score on a music stand. They were also provided visual distraction in the form of a slide show that included photos and quotations of Cage.
The composer may never have imagined a 15-hour realization of this score, let alone the one going on in Germany that is scheduled to last for another 630 years. All the composer asked is that the performer play the piece as slowly as possible. Luchese, a TU faculty member, came up with her own formula for determining the duration, having first decided that the whole thing should fit into the single span of "a waking day." Judging from what I heard, I'd say her decision was right on target.
Sustained low notes on the organ's pedals created a visceral, fundamental rumble that suggested the drone of some cosmic machinery. Dissonant chords appeared and disappeared unpredictably above that pulsating foundation -- chance encounters with sonority. Almost each change in notes or tone colors seemed positively cataclysmic in this glacial context.
Cage, one of the most endearing radicals in all of music history, argued that any sound or collection of sounds could constitute music, and that music didn't have to have any clear-cut meaning. Organ2/ASLSP is a striking example of that philosophy. Cage would surely have loved how Luchese honored it in this daunting performance.
BALTIMORE SUN STAFF PHOTO (Chiaki Kawajiri)