Prom 47: BBCSSO, Exaudi, Volkov/ Prom 48: Coote, LPO, Jurowski, Royal Albert Hall

4.00

 

Radio 3 is embarking on a centenary talk-fest about John Cage, but there’s nothing to say about him that has not been said a thousand times already.

As his frustrated tutor Arnold Schoenberg observed, he was not a composer but an inventor, or as we would say a conceptual artist: replacing willed composition with games of chance, opening the door to the variegated beauties of silence, and putting the most humdrum household noises under a musically-revealing microscope, he led where armies of other artists have since followed.

But we still need to feel the truth of his message, as Prom 47 - curated (and conducted when appropriate) by Ilan Volkov - demonstrated in three fascinating hours. With the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra divided into three groups plus four ‘prepared’ pianos, the opening piece "101" sounded almost old-fashioned with its fastidiously organised layers, but it made us listen with new attention to the sound of applause, and to the sound of the orchestra routinely tuning up for their next piece.

"Conceptual" Cage - and the work of followers like Christian Marclay who had the orchestra rubbing, scratching, and bashing their instrument-cases – really doesn’t need to be heard at all, but the West Coast master’s vintage works which were performed here lit up the mind. In "Improvisation III" the players were simply armed with cassette recordings, the Exaudi singers limited themselves to one note each, and Joan La Barbara intoned an e.e.cummings sonnet with repetitions, echoes, and pregnantly interposed silences.

The simultaneous performance of three pieces at once worked sweetly, as did the free-wheeling, high-flying improvised "Quartet" and "But what about the noise of crumpling paper?",  with Cage’s signature-work "‘Branches" - for stroked cacti and shaken dry grasses, all heavily amplified - casting its usual ecological spell; the imported soloists, many of them Cage-veterans, worked wonders with stone-age electronics. But still no answer to the central Cagean mystery: why should pieces which ought to sound irritatingly random have such delicate poise? 

In Prom 48 mezzo Alice Coote transfixed her audience with Mahler’s "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen". The text is short and wistful, but Coote gave it the most wonderful resonance, with a sound of sustained richness and a coloration subtly graded along the gamut of pitch and emotion. Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic were her sensitive companions.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits