In many ways, John Cage is the Mister Rogers of contemporary music. Soft-spoken and gentle, he loves all sounds with a wide-eared, impartial wonder.
He also makes word constructs with the same eager simplicity as he builds music, and Wednesday evening both were on display in the Tom Bradley Theatre of the Los Angeles Theatre Center. (The compleat Cage aficionado could view some of Cage's graphic art in an adjacent room.)
The formal readings Wednesday included two mesostics--an acrostic form more visual than aural. Cage began with "Scenario for M.F.," which he wrote for composer Morton Feldman's 60th birthday. Feldman, who died last week, had been scheduled to open the evening's proceedings.
Cage's other mesostic was an expansive reordering of a quotation from Jasper Johns. His fey, measured delivery gave it an oratorical weight far beyond its literary merits.
The Cage Celebration of the Los Angeles Festival revolves around his birth here 75 years ago, and much reminiscing was done Wednesday. Cage read "Other People Think," a speech with which he won a local high school competition in 1927, and M. C. Richards--a colleague from the composer's days at Black Mountain College--shared recollections and her own poetry.
According to program annotator Frans van Rossum, "Music = Sound and of course Words = Sound." Not everyone may find the validity of those equations self-evident, and the long evening did not really attempt their proof. However, there were sounds of a musical sort, as well as of the word sort.
Young German pianist Herbert Henck brought out the reverence for sheer sound in Cage's "Music of Changes," and Grete Sultan--another old Cage associate--did surprisingly intense things with four "Etudes Australes."
Both large works are tightly bound by the composer's chance operations and reminded us that surprise is only possible in a context of expectation. Paradoxically then, such pieces are far more predictable than most sonatas or fugues, as Cage's processes systematically exhaust themselves--and the listeners.