As one of the handful of genuinely influential composers of our century, John Cage's impact on musical thinking cannot be exaggerated. The program book of the current Los Angeles Festival, which offers fascinating insights on Cage the composer by Frans van Rossum, among others, gauges that impact.
But Cage's effect on audiences is more controversial. Even as admiring and fair-minded a colleague as Virgil Thomson has written, as long ago as 1970, that "a lack of urgency has been characteristic of Cage's music from the beginning."
No one could be surprised, then, that the second event in the festival-within-a-festival honoring Cage this week not only drew a small audience but also failed to spread much joy. It offered in its first half compositions by Cage protege Takehisa Kosugi and by the master himself; in the post-intermission, three Cage pieces delivered simultaneously. In both halves, it required patience to remain on the premises.
Kosugi's 26-minute electronic piece, "75 Letters and Improvisations" resembles a long set of variations hooked up to a low-budget light show; it irritates in its uneventfulness, though never offends by growing too loud. Visually, it is like three hours in an ophthalmologist's chair and might leave some observers with a headache. The composer was his own soloist at this matinee performance in the Japan America Theatre in Little Tokyo.