JOHN CAGE: A TRIBUTEIn Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of John Cage's Birth.
JOSHUA PIERCE, piano
Robert White, tenor
American Festival of Microtonal Music Ensemble
Special 2-CD Set
“This is an excellent introduction for those who have shied away because what they've read has suggested his music is difficult; the program contains some of his more approachable pieces… Pianist Joshua Pierce has championed Cage's music for over thirty years. The pianist knew Cage well, and the composer approved of the way he performed his music… Pierce's technique, dynamics and nuanced tempos project a feeling of confidence and intelligent understanding… with the knowledgeable extended notes of Eric Salzman, the release can be recommended to those who are unfamiliar with Cage and wonder why he was so influential, and also to completists who may be missing one or more of the pieces it includes.”
Ron Bierman, Music & Vision [April 2013]
“there’s a cooler emotional tenor to Pierce’s account [of Four Walls] combined with an eerie precision, that I think suits [the work] very well… Pierce’s reading is one that I can well imagine returning to.”
Haskins, American Record Guide [January/February 2013]
“this very nice and fairly comprehensive overview of his piano music offers a very interesting and mostly accessible introduction to his music. The first disc begins this set in especially compelling fashion [with Cage’s Four Walls]… These two discs—a lengthy, but weirdly attractive compilation of Cage piano music, make the case for John Cage being, perhaps, one of the twentieth century’s pioneers of piano writing. This set also does offer what I feel is a very fine and mostly “safe” introduction to the music of John Cage. I have long felt that Cage’s legacy as a philosopher and thinker on the very nature of music will survive the test of time. It is also that some – if not all – of his music ought to be played and heard and sustain the same legacy. These works, performed wonderfully by Joshua Pierce, assisted by Robert White and the members of the American Festival of Microtonal Music Ensemble, are a great place to start this discussion.”
[ * * * * ] Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition [December 2012]
“Pierce’s way with the shorter works here, as well as the inclusion of the curious Piano Sextet, should make this of interest to full-fledged Cage fanatics...”
Art Lange, Fanfare Issue 36:3 [Jan/Feb 2013]
“Pierce's association with the music of Cage over three decades ought to equip him to bring expert interpretations to our attention. It does… Almost the first thing you'll notice about Pierce's playing is the steady, calm yet totally confident command with which he paces and navigates through the intricacies of some of the composer's most engaging and enticing works for solo piano. Tenor Robert White also sings with a nice mix of precision and conviction, projection and restraint in the interlude… The American Festival of Microtonal Music Ensemble makes the Piano Sextet equally memorable. But Pierce's depths and reach as a performer extend much further. He manages to follow Cage's contours without emphasizing them; to accentuate the rhythmic without losing spontaneity; and to introduce color without over-sweetening the harmonics… The most compelling works in a truly captivating and utterly enjoyable recital are probably the Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano…The music fairly sings, breaths and extends its every nuance to us. The sonorities get a full exposure… the almost gamelan-like qualities of the 18th, for instance. At the same time, the music doesn't wander or peregrinate, for all its sense of the new. Pierce is completely in charge… Pierce's fluency as derived from this authority is informed by a courage – simply to have the music work as Cage intended. If there should be silence, silence there is. If insistence, insistence there is… Much of the music [for Prepared Piano] is "suspended", moves slowly and almost imperceptibly. It needs considerable deftness of conception and execution to achieve this, and for the music not to lose itself. Pierce is agile in the extreme in this respect… his pacing, tempi and sense of the music's structure and relative proportions – and why and how these proportions matter – are superb. The result is that we're involved in the progress of, say, the later numbers of the Sonatas & Interludes for the music's sake; not because we're listening to the effects of the (mechanical) preparation. Those aspects of the music on this recording convey a sense of the placid and sweetness, almost; not the eccentric… It all but goes without saying that these interpretative depths are bolstered by superb technical solidity. Cage's music – in turns genuinely transparent, deceptively simple and extortionately difficult (as with the later piano works) – needs clarity and a certain detachment in the command which the performers bring to it. Pierce has these qualities; though he never abandons or loses sight of the warmth, which drives Cage's conception… Add to these qualities, Pierce's sense of balance between momentum and consideration, the need for sensitive tempi and for an awareness of the overall structure of the music, and you do have an almost ideal performance. Pierce also makes it plain just how varied is Cage's output for piano in terms of technique. His playing is by turns gentle, soft, yielding – as in some of the slower movements of "Four Walls"… It's also jolly, lively and exuberant; and magisterial, demanding, extrovert. Never over intellectual or dry, prone to sophistry or – worse – a perceived need to persuade – Cage is allowed to speak for himself at all times. No composer could ask for more. Truly a tribute to treasure. MSR is to be congratulated for reviving these recordings and presenting them so well… The result of this rich and knowing combination of aspects to Pierce's playing would still not be worthy of our attention if it were not for a certain spontaneity, a dedication to the aforementioned variety in the composer's pianism, a determination lightly to accentuate Cage's freshness. At times this is, of course, almost playful; at times earnest yet delighted; always full of vigor. Maybe Pierce is reflecting the closeness of much of Cage's work to dance. In the end, Pierce's accounts of all this music, in its various ways, are always focused, sonorous, inviting and full of life… The acoustics – all halls in New York – are fine throughout. The attention is invariably on the music, the player, the progression of ideas, the effect of Cage's subtle rhythms, his pauses, references and changing tempi. Never effect or the splash of what would – in other situations – surely be noticed as virtuosity. Credit for this is also Pierce's, to be sure. But the sense that we have experienced a remarkable, thought-provoking and authoritative musical journey, not an "event" for its own sake is uppermost. The liner notes by Eric Salzman are well worth reading…these essays take the composer at face value and help us reach sympathetic and informed conclusions which inform our listening. Whether or not you have other recordings of this music, Pierce's are ones well worth investigating. If you're new to Cage, or to his piano repertoire, this is a set of real stature and achievement. It makes an excellent place to start. Indeed, an excellent tribute to Cage. Recommended.”
Mark Sealey, ClassicalNet [December 2012]
“Pianist Joshua Pierce’s John Cage, A Tribute is an essential collection, especially as it commemorates the composer’s centenary… On Two Pieces for Piano a brooding keyboard meditation seems to hover with Cage’s ghost in Pierce’s whispering tones… In the Name of the Holocaust from 1942, with its damaged piano aura of hollow strums and distant tinny bangs, Cage’s insistent development of a marred harpsichord effect, is a stunning composition and in Pierce’s hands, completely realized… Ophelia, in contrast, is a linear dance score, performed with volcanic, understated clarity by Pierce, seems like a keyboard mad scene, and is in fact a straightforward dance score… The highlight on this set is the transcendent performance by Pierce of Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano... without doubt, Pierce gives [the work] completely realized dimensions... His prepared piano, as per Cage’s instructions, has bolts, screws, nuts, an eraser, plastics- create eerie effects and in the denser sections can read as Balinese gamelan or ancient Japanese strings and other instruments… the New York Times [dubbed] Cage one of the most American composers of his generation, and now it can also be observed that [his music] is destined to be timeless. This collection will certainly second that.”
Lewis Whittington, ConcertoNet [November 2012]
"John Cage at 100: A Well-Rounded Tribute from Joshua Pierce - Joshua Pierce’s longtime advocacy of and affinity for John Cage’s piano music has resulted in numerous recordings… Here Pierce [is] fluid, flexible, and involved... Furthermore, the pianist benefits from a spacious hall ambience that allows the Gamelan-like timbres to fully resonate at any dynamic level… Cage acolytes will notice Pierce’s subtle yet noticeable degree of tempo adjustment and nuance in the large-scale Four Walls…along with Robert White’s delightfully emotive rendition of the unaccompanied vocal interlude. Pierce’s gutsy, incisive way with shorter dissonant works like Quest and both sets of Two Pieces point up their proximity to Cage’s teacher Schoenberg, and the short, pointillistic Piano Sextet (one of Cage’s few “traditional” chamber scores) reveals the composer’s sensitive and often underrated ear for conjuring fresh instrumental textures. MSR should be thanked for restoring this wide range of Cage’s music in such strong, committed performances in time for the composer’s 2012 centenary, while not forgetting to mention composer Eric Salzman’s informative and well-written booklet notes.”
Jed Distler, Classics Today [September 2012]
Q2 MUSIC ALBUM OF THE WEEK FOR AUGUST 27, 2012 [WQXR Radio, New York]
“There are few pianists as equipped to tackle the polarizing music of John Cage as powerfully as Joshua Pierce. Having championed the composer’s piano music for the last 30 years, Pierce has delivered multiple landmark recordings of the Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano as well as premiere recordings of several Cage pieces (particularly on the four-volume “John Cage: Works for Piano and Prepared Piano”). It's fitting, then, that to celebrate the composer's centennial, the onetime Cage collaborator offers a new double disc of historic re-releases and first recordings. While somewhat overwhelming to stomach in a single listen, “John Cage: A Tribute” is one of the most powerful and listenable cross-sections of Cage’s work to date. The album opens with the 14-part, (mostly) tonally-centered Four Walls suite, setting the tone for 2.5 hours of surprisingly inviting and accessible music. Pierce's biggest contribution here is that crucial aspect of so many Cage performances—a sense of wonder, as if the pianist is endlessly mesmerized and caught off guard by the sounds generated by his own fingers. Playful, meditative, and often intense (the last two parts of Act Two conjure sustain pedal-driven thunderstorms from the keyboard’s low end) the suite is marked by Cage’s signature sense of space, and is an important insight into an oft-neglected facet of the composer's oeuvre: the easily digestible. While sticking largely to Cage’s keyboard-driven output in the 1940s, the retrospective makes for a highly varied listen. The charming 1942 prepared piano dance accompaniment, Primitive, brims with playful absurdity and gamelon-like textures. In the Name of the Holocaust offers the “dark side” of altered keyboard strings, singing with dissonant, buzzing drones and haunting, bell-like tones before descending into madness. In Our Spring Will Come, one of the compilation's nine "first recordings," the instrument becomes a relentless one-man percussion ensemble. Three Early Songs, delivered by tenor Robert White, is a series of miniature ruminations on absurdist Gertrude Stein-penned phrases (“it was to be what it was/and it was, so it was”). And then, of course, there's Sonatas & Interludes—nearly an hour of hypnotic and alien sounds informed by Cage’s interest in the philosophy of the rasa Indian tradition (the scales used express the eight “permanent” emotions of the practice) and his love of the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Screws, bolts and pieces of rubber transform the instrument into a miniature gamelan orchestra as fragile as a piece of glass, endlessly morphing through colors and meditations. While few would deny Cage’s influence on the landscape of Western classical music, the composer will undoubtedly continue to polarize listeners who see him as more of a conceptualist philosopher than a composer. While “John Cage: A Tribute” won’t change that, the selection of pieces and, of course, Pierce’s balance of careful technique and violent abandon throughout offer a profound and accessible portrait of the landscape-changing composer.”
Hannis Brown, Q2: WQXR Radio, New York [August 2012]
"Pierce is an old-school virtuoso who likes to mix things up (he is best known for his excellent Cage and Liszt recordings). His stunning performance Saturday was a feat that will not be soon forgotten."
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times [May 16, 2005]
“The measure of Joshua Pierce's greatness as a contemporary music pianist has been his awesome performances of the extended/exhaustive modern masterpieces, among them John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes, [which are] keyboard challenges that separate giants from duffers."
Richard Kostelanetz [April 2005]
"Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes" are not grand in scale, but they are intriguing and riveting, dark and complex, pulled back from the brink of discordance by delicate interplay. Mr. Pierce played each individual work with the confidence of someone who knows the territory, seemingly singing the odd foreign language with a native's tongue. With his skilled guidance, the work becomes not merely odd, but fascinating, hinting at the musical mysteries that first attracted the composer to such uncharted territory."
Joseph Shaw, Southampton Press [September 9, 2004]
"It would be easy to say, on paper for example: here comes "another" Cage record. In fact, the risks are high in such an undertaking and also, what about the performance? Does it match the spirit of the composer? ”A Tribute” doesn't have any of these problems, because the interpreter Joshua Pierce is use to working on Cageian polemics and is considered one of the highest experts on the matter. The range of works contained herein also serves one of the most important and highest expressions of Cage's piano music. Agreeably, 'A Tribute' is essentially an album of early works along with ultra-known material and distinguished compositions issued here for the very first time." "The "listening" of this double CD is suggested to everyone; but much more to the denigrators of Cage's music. Anything else, to the contrary, on such an indisputable album as this, can only be considered a waste of time! Have a good listen!"
Eterio Genio, SANDS, Italy 
PROGRAM NOTESCan you name the major keyboard composers of the twentieth century, composers who created a
large, significant and original body of work for the piano, comparable to that of the great composer-pianists of earlier centuries? What about Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Bartók, and John
Cage – John Cage?
Cage wrote for keyboards throughout most of his life. He was famous for inventing the so-called
“prepared piano,” but he also wrote for traditional piano in both standard and unconventional ways.
His later piano works employed an almost ferocious complexity and virtuosity that reached the limit of
pianists’ technical abilities. His earlier works made complex use of electronic extensions, chance and performer collaboration. He wrote his early keyboard music for himself, and much of it was meant as “accompaniment” for dance performances. Cage’s piano music for prepared and traditional piano was the orchestra for a whole genre of solo dance performance by some of the greatest figures in modern American dance.
John Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912. He studied in Los Angeles and New York with Robert Buhlig, Adolph Weiss, Henry Cowell, and Schoenberg himself. Weiss was Schoenberg’s first American follower, and Cowell was a major innovator in his own right. In 1938, Cage was hired by the Cornish School in Seattle, where he began collaborating as pianist and composer with dancers. He also organized one of the first percussion ensembles and did pioneering work with them. All of
these interests came together in Bacchanale, his first prepared piano work, which he wrote for the dancer-choreographer Syvilla Fort. Cage’s idea was to put metallic and other objects into the piano
strings in order to turn the keyboard into a one-man percussion band. The inspiration for the prepared piano came from African and African-American music, and from Cage’s collaboration with
Afro-American dancers, starting with Syvilla Fort.
In 1942, Cage moved via Chicago to New York, where he organized a concert of percussion music at the Museum of Modern Art almost as soon as he arrived there. He also continued to write solo piano music for the leading dancer-choreographers of the day, including Merce Cunningham, who he had already met in Seattle, Pearl Primus and Jean Erdman, all of whom are represented in these recordings. Many of these early dance pieces were apparently ephemeral, performed once or twice and then forgotten. The dances and the music meant to go with them disappeared: much later in his life, as Cage’s fame increased to almost mythic proportions and performers sought out his music, it
therefore had to be rediscovered and revived.
This keyboard music for dance and his prepared piano music of the same period constitute a distinct aspect of Cage’s early work. Keyboard sonorities, sometimes altered by more or less elaborate preparations, are set forth by means of strong rhythms. These sound clusters, if we may call them that, are organized into larger sectional forms through the use of both large and small- scale repetition. This is a barebones style, stripped of everything nonessential. Cage uses prepared piano sonorities and open piano chords in exactly the same, building-block manner. Everything is revealed in its own due time, often interrupted by shorter or longer silences. The writing is spacious and rhythmic, and frequently has its roots in metric cycles that are very similar to tala in Indian music. Repetition is the key to the slow, open sections, as well as to the faster, more kinetic movements. These kinetic, percussive elements, which these performances bring out intensively, stand in contrast to other sustained sonorities and silences. But both are clearly part of the choreographically inspired musical expression of these pieces. And we only gradually become aware that this music is suffused with elements derived from Eastern philosophy. We thus arrive at a kind of musical Zen via the physicality of the dance and the rhythmic patterns of Indian classical music.
Joshua Pierce is considered one of the most uniquely gifted and compelling virtuosi of our time. His highly expressive and rhythmic approach to the music of John Cage is a result of his 30-year association with Cage’s music, an approach that has been heralded world-wide. Pierce has played Cage’s works in venues around the world, and has recorded his cycle of Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano for Public Radio International in the United States, and on the Sony Classical, Wergo, ANTS and SoLyd Records labels. On the Wergo label, Pierce can be heard in a highly regarded 4-volume CD series, John Cage: Works for Piano and Prepared Piano, which contains major compositions from the 1940’s and 50’s, many receiving their first recording. Pierce was
awarded the coveted Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for Volume III of that series. A prolific recording artist in all genres, Pierce has recorded nearly 200 works on more than 50 discs,
including the complete piano concertos of Beethoven and Brahms, and all the major works for piano and orchestra by Gershwin and Liszt. His recordings can be heard on such labels as MSR Classics, EMI Classics, Sony Classical, Koch International, Pro Arte, Varese Sarabande, Vox, and many others.
Over a long career, tenor Robert White’s artistic versatility has been expressed in a wide variety of song. He has premiered 20th and 21st century works by composers including John Corigliano,
Giancarlo Menotti, Milton Babbit, William Bolcom, Paul Hindemith, Lukas Foss and Ned Rorem, and has made numerous recordings for the RCA, Sony Classical, Angel-EMI, Virgin Classics, Hyperion and Arabesque labels.
About the American Festival of Microtonal Music (AFMM) Ensemble: Bassoonist Johnny Reinhard is a composer, conductor and Music Director of AFMM, Inc, one of New York’s leading contemporary
music ensembles. He has collaborated with Mr. Pierce on numerous occasions as a Duo and in
chamber music performances throughout the U.S., Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. Trumpet: John
Nelson, Cello: David Eggar, Violin: Gregor Kitzis and Flute: Andre Bolotovsky, have also worked
with Mr. Pierce in concert, and are among the leading free-lance musicians in New York City today.
FOUR WALLS (1944)
IN THE NAME OF THE HOLOCAUST (1942)
QUEST (1935) [FIRST RECORDING]
OUR SPRING WILL COME (1948) [FIRST RECORDING]
PIANO SEXTET Prelude for 6 Instruments in A minor (1946) [FIRST RECORDING]
SONATAS AND INTERLUDES FOR PREPARED PIANO (1946-1948)
THREE EARLY SONGS (1933) [FIRST RECORDING]
TWO PIECES FOR PIANO (1946)
MUSIC FOR MARCEL DUCHAMP (1947)
SPONTANEOUS EARTH (1944)
THREE EASY PIECES FOR PIANO (1933) [FIRST RECORDING]
THE UNAVAILABLE MEMORY OF (1944)
TWO PIECES FOR PIANO (1935/ rev. 1974)
MOZART: COMPLETE SONATAS FOR VIOLIN …
Special 6-CD Limited Edition SMITH-PIERCE …
BRITTEN, MILHAUD, FINZI & R. STRAUSS
Works for Piano and Orchestra JOSHUA PIERCE
Showpieces for Piano and Orchestra JOSHUA PIERCE
THE DEVIL'S TRILL
Music for Violin and Piano …
RUSSIAN PIANO CONCERTOS
JS BACH, HAYDN & MENDELSSOHN
Piano Concertos JOSHUA PIERCE
PERSICHETTI: LEGACY OF SONGS
Unpublished Songs on Poetical Texts SHERRY …
BACH, HINDEMITH & BLOCH
J.S.Bach: Keyboard Concerto BWV 1052; JOSHUA PIERCE
Song Cycle for Soprano and Piano, Op.50
Poems SHERRY OVERHOLT