John Cage Marathon - ATX Classical

Michelle Schumann prepared piano

Austin Marathon: John Cage Edition

By Marc van Bree
Monday September 3, 2012

Austinites have been celebrating American composer John Cage’s birthday with a special tribute every year since 2000. And they have Austin Chamber Music Center director Michelle Schumann to thank for that. She has been the driving force in producing, performing and directing the annual Happy Birthday, Mr. Cage! concerts.

This year is special. It’s the centennial of the composer’s birth and Schumann is going all out.

“I wanted to collaborate with as many different organizations as possible,” she explains over the phone. “There are organizations and artists in town I admire that are great new music advocates.

In curating the marathon, Schumann is joined by Brent Baldwin of the Texas Choral Consort, Matt Teodori of line upon line percussion, and New Music Co-op’s Travis Weller. She started meeting with these artists in late October last year.

The five-hour marathon draws from the composer’s entire oeuvre and not just his best known works. Cage, who was born in September 1912, was still composing at the time of his death in 1992.

“The selections performed at the event embody the whole of John Cage’s output.” Schumann says. “Each hour is really its own concert.”

Works to be performed include Hymn and Variations for Chorus, several of the “number” pieces and of course the famed 4’33”.

Schumann fell in love with Cage’s music when she studied his prepared piano pieces during her undergraduate years. The prepared piano pieces, where the piano has its sound altered by objects (like screws, bolts and weather stripping) between or on the strings or hammers, are among Cage’s best known works.

“It totally transformed what the piano was,” Schumann says. She recalled the audience going nuts for the performance. “You have to give in to the experience to hear music in a new way.”

“Cage changed the way I played and listened,” she adds. “He opened up my ears more than anyone else could have done.”

We couldn’t think of a better way to herald in the new classical music season in Austin.

The five one-hour performances will run from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. this Sunday, September 8. Tickets are $15 for general admission.

Question or Comment? Enter it below.