John Cage was the son of an inventor, and he had an unremarkable and generally unmusical childhood. He attended two years of college, then left to travel in Europe. When he returned to the United States, he began serious study, first with Henry Cowell and then with Arnold Schoenberg. He began writing in his own musical system, often using techniques similar to those of Schoenberg. In 1937 he moved to Seattle and took a job accompanying a dance company. From this he began to view music as segments of time to be filled with sounds. During this period his music is marked by strict, mathematically devised proportions of time. He filled these segments with new sounds, including different objects used as percussion (brake drums, for example), electronic sounds, and prepared piano (a piano with objects placed between the strings to modify pitch and timbre).

In the 1940s he moved to New York and joined a group of avant-garde artists, including painters Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cage was long associated with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as composer, performer, and music director. At about this same time Cage developed an interest in Eastern religions. During this period, he continued his use of carefully structured segments of time, but began to fill them in with materials derived by chance processes (the rolling of dice, the use of the I Ching, and other methods). In perhaps the ultimate statement of this aesthetic, he wrote 4'33', a piece of total silence on the part of the performer; into which the random sounds of the world enter. This cemented his beliefs that the goal of music was "purposelessness," and that the role of the composer was to create situations in which sounds could "simply be." To this end, he continued to devise strategies for creating activities in which sounds could happen. The most expansive example of this is HPSCHD, created with Lejaren Hiller. The piece is written for seven harpsichordists, various other performers, and fifty-one tapes, along with multiple films, slides, and light shows. Using various activities, the basic coordination of these elements is set in motion, and the audience walks among the performers over the course of five hours.

In his later years, Cage turned to computers as an aid to his creation of pieces, and became interested in theater (or in his vision, circuses). Along with his musical contributions, he left a large body of writings that explain and exemplify his aesthetic.


John Knowles Paine Hall at Harvard University | March 22, 2007
Moonshine Room at Club Café | April 4, 2006
Moonshine Room at Club Café | November 16, 2004
Moonshine Room at Club Café | February 10, 2004
John Knowles Paine Hall at Harvard University | November 8, 2002
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | February 23, 2001

News and Press

[News Coverage] A record label of one's own

The news these days about the classical music recording industry is almost always bleak, so it’s a pleasure to report a bright spot on that landscape: the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has finally launched its own record label called BMOP/sound.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Concert Review] Dulcimer, dances mark Fromm event

CAMBRIDGE -- Pull enough threads in American contemporary music of the last 50 years and you’ll arrive at the Fromm Foundation, which has funded commissions from many of the 20th century’s most distinguished composers. Paul Fromm (1906-1987) was an emigre who fled Nazi Germany and settled in this country, establishing a successful wine importing business in Chicago and, later, a foundation pledged “to restore to the composer his rightful position at the center of musical life.”

The Boston Globe Full review
[Press Release] The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performs in 2007 Fromm Players at Harvard Festival

Presented by Harvard University's Department of Music, this year's "Fromm Players at Harvard" music series features works of five composers to be performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation's only orchestra dedicated to performing, commissioning, and recording new music of the 21st century. Curated by British composer and Harvard faculty member Julian Anderson, the 2007 Fromm Festival takes places Thursday, March 22nd, and Friday, March 23rd @ 8:00pm, in the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall at Harvard University (Oxford Street, Cambridge).

Full review
[Concert Review] Grandeur and intimacy

...And in the Moonshine Room at the Club Café, one of the off-the-formal-concert-hall-beats of Gil Rose’s Boston Modern Orchestra Project, we got a rich program, with extraordinary soloists. A percussion tour de force by Samuel Solomon in John Cage’s paradoxically but accurately titled Composed Improvisation for Snare Drum (Solomon using not only his hands and drum sticks, but also a pencil, a gavel, pebbles, space change, and his breath). Rafael Popper-Keizer’s powerful rendition of the last-movement Ciaccona from Benjamin Britten’s Second Cello Suite.

The Boston Phoenix Full review