By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Austin American Statesman
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Perhaps there’s no more delightful contribution of composer John Cage than his codifying the prepared piano, writing a vast number of pieces for a piano augmented with such things as screws, bolts, rubber, wood, weather stripping, pencil erasers and pennies placed in between the strings.
“Composing for the prepared piano is not a criticism of the instrument,” Cage once said.”I’m only being practical.”
Indeed, he was. By doctoring up a piano, Cage made it possible for a single performer to wrest a multitude of sounds from one piano — bells, whistles, clinks, thuds as well as typical piano note.
Celebrated Austin pianist Michelle Schumann — artistic director Austin Chamber Music Center — is an expert on interpreting Cage’s music. And each year she treats audiences to an invigoratin and spirited concert in celebration of Cage’s birthday. (The composer died in 1992.)
For this year’s tribute, Schumann will be joined by pianist Carla McElhaney for Cage’s complete works for two prepared pianos.
“The piano is an iconic instrument,” Schumann said in an interview with the Statesman a few years ago. “Everyone knows what a piano sounds like, and it has such an incredible history, from classical music to salacious lounge music. When you see someone sitting down at a piano, you pretty much know what to expect. But when someone sits down at a prepared piano, and starts to play, it shatters expectations. It shocks audiences and challenges every concept they have of the instrument. And then, once they get used to the shock, their ears open up to this entirely new and sophisticated palate. I love that my instrument can do that — be transformed from expected smooth, dulcet tones into a ‘Ten-Man Percussion Band.’”
“Happy Birthday Mr. Cage!” 7:30 p.m. Thursday
First Unitarian Church, 4700 Grover Ave.