Music review: ‘Cage 2012’ at Southwest Chamber Music


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This is officially the Year of Cage, 2012 being the centennial year for the late, great American avant-gardist composer/conceptualist John Cage. Los Angeles has a special stake in the celebratory spirit, as the composer’s birthplace on Sept. 5, 1912, and sometime creative stamping ground. To that end, Cage is being feted by Southwest Chamber Music, which launched its four-concert “Cage 2012” series on Saturday night at the Japanese American National Museum.

Starting the series with gentle force, Saturday’s fare consisted of the uniquely minimal, meditative works “One6” and “One10’ -- with original collaborator Mineko Grimmer’s audio-kinetic sculpture and solo violinist Shalini Vijayan -- written in 1990 and 1992 (the year of Cage’s death).


Atmospherically, the museum’s high-ceilinged, glass-walled atrium proved an ideal and ideally unconventional concert setting for Cage, with its ambient sounds of traffic, cricket song and the occasional siren. He no doubt would have appreciated the space, sonic stowaways and all.

In typically atypical Cage-ian fashion, these works sprung out of an unexpected place, the inspiration of Grimmer’s elaborate and large but also organic and graceful sculpture, made from wood, stones, a rectangular water pond, piano strings and a few metal tines. A largely frozen pyramid of pebbles, suspended above the structure, slowly and randomly releases pebbles, creating an aleatoric percussion source as they tumble through a web of wooden limbs, gently splashing to their resting place. Meanwhile, the violin part –- beautifully and reflectively played by Vijayan –- involves long droned tones, punctuated by silences of determined lengths. Timbre counts for much, as the violin lays out its wandering series of pitches with vibrato-less tones, from full-bodied to windy, wispy sounds, with ghostly overtones drifting by. Occasionally, as on the last long note of the first piece, the violin pitch roughly matched the pinging piano strings, a rare alignment of the two otherwise independent sound sources.

Cage’s music can be distinctively contemplative without being vaporous or wanting the all-important elements of tension, intellectual challenge and Zen-like riddles in its system. Such a delicate balance was in effect in this elegantly ethereal, and wonderfully strange, performance.


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Southwest Chamber Music ‘Cage 2012’: 5 p.m. Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles. The series continues with other works March 10-11 at Art Center and Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena; March 24 at the Colburn School of Music, Los Angeles. $38; (800) 726-7147 or