Since 1919, The New School has been home to scholars, creators, and activists who challenge convention and boldly make their mark on the world.
To celebrate this groundbreaking legacy, we are opening our doors to the public for a weeklong festival of innovative performances, talks, workshops, screenings, exhibitions, and more.

On October 1–6, 2019, join us as we reflect on a century of world-changing ideas and together imagine a new kind of future.

The Festival of New is free and open to all.
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Tuesday, October 1 • 7:30pm - 9:00pm
“UnCaged” : Sonatas and (New) Interludes

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John Cage’s prepared-piano masterpiece, “Sonatas and Interludes,” with a twist: four newly-commissioned interludes, written by four stellar New York City composers.

Ariela Bohrod
Albert Newberry
Lara Saldanha
Menglu Lin

Daniel Felsenfeld
Angélica Negrón
Eleonor Sandresky
Justin Hines

About The Program:

Arguably the most influential (and controversial) artistic figure of the past 100 years, John Cage composed his prepared-piano epic “Sonatas & Interludes” from 1946-48. Unlike much of his previous music, Sonatas and Interludes quickly found an audience. The 65-minute piece became Cage’s first true critical success as a composer. Within three years of completion, Sonatas and Interludes had been performed around the world, and had given Cage’s career a noticeable boost. Even the hotheaded French composer Pierre Boulez expressed sincere admiration for the work. No small feat.

Sonatas and Interludes contains written, detailed instructions for how the different notes (45) are to be “prepared.” The pianist is to attach screws, bolts, nuts, and pieces of rubber & plastic to the strings, all of which alters the sound of the instrument drastically. Different preparations achieve different sounds. Some notes sound bell-like, some are percussive and pitch-less, while many strike a middle ground in different ways.

John Cage was heavily influenced by the emotions & moods associated with Hindu aesthetics. Although Cage left it vague, each movement of Sonatas and Interludes reflects one of those eight emotions: heroism, wonder, sorrow, fear, anger, eroticism, mirth, and tranquility.

In 2017, a series I co-run called the Rite of Summer Music Festival, knew we wanted to present an afternoon of the music of John Cage. Since my festival co-partner and I are both pianists, I thought the two of us could split Sonatas and Interludes in half for an outdoor audience on Governors Island.

But Pam (my co-partner) and I are also fiercely committed to the commissioning of new works. So, we asked four of our favorite NYC composers to write new Interludes. What they came up with And for some reason, four pianists seemed like more of a celebration fun than two. So we invited two close piano friends to join us in the world premiere, Phyllis Chen and Anthony deMere. The premiere happened in July 2017 on Governors Island.

By commissioning new music to be inserted into the piece, Pam and I were not trying to “better” or “one-up” Cage’s work. (Sonatas and Interludes is a near-perfect work in every way. Nothing we do would ever change that.) We decided to keep the vast majority of the original Cage piece intact. But, we wanted a 21st-century update, on this piece that has had such a profound effect on music of so many different styles.

Prepared-piano is much more common now than it was, say, 50 or 60 years ago. It is definitely no longer a “fringe thing.” One hears it in HBO scores, in electronic music of all sorts, and in wide swaths of contemporary-classical music of the 21st-century. Pam and I were really curious to know what composers had to say at the prepared piano, on this bizarrely decorated instrument, 70 years after Sonatas and Interludes was composed.

Using Cage as a reference and a jumping-off point; Danny, Eleonor, Angélica, and Justin all wrote amazing, and very different, Interludes. We hope you enjoy the performance. Please stick around for the silence, and the short Q and A.

- Blair McMillen

Faculty Organizer
avatar for Blair McMillen

Blair McMillen

Part- Time Lecturer, Mannes School Of Music
Blair McMillen has established himself as one of the most versatile and sought-after pianists today.  He leads a multifarious musical life as a soloist, chamber musician, new-music champion, and pedagogue.  As a pianist, Blair champions living composers among others, and he has... Read More →

Tuesday October 1, 2019 7:30pm - 9:00pm EDT
Ernst C. Stiefel Hall - I400