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February 6, 2009

John Cage's Organ2/ASLSP in marathon performance

Diane LucheseI 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.


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:06 PM | | Comments (1)


I attended the last couple hours of this unprecedented performance. The information in the presentation informed listeners of Cage’s Zen-like approach. Those able to divorce themselves from conventional expectations and confines of “music” were treated to the richness of sound and sonic power. As Cage suggested, slowing down and listening purely to sound reveals an incredible depth and complexity of colors, vibrations, and tones in even a single note played on the organ.
At a time when slowing down flies in the face of the pace of most daily lives, when deep observation and understanding of anything that isn’t obvious seems to be too much bother, it was a bold undertaking to offer this performance, and especially admirable when one considers what is involved in such a long and large undertaking. Reading the many pages of comments in the guest book revealed overwhelming appreciation and awe. At the conclusion there was an audience of around sixty people who rewarded Dr Luchese with an enthusiastic standing ovation that sounded as if the hall had been full. This was an historic performance and probably the longest of this piece by a human being.

Thanks very much for your report. I'm glad to hear that so many folks turned out for the finale. This was, as you say, historic.Tim

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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