Conservatory Opera Students to Perform John Cage's Song Books at the MFA

January 08, 2016

On January 20, patrons of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will be privy to an unique and engaging happening based on John Cage’s Song Books, which will be performed throughout the Chinese Galleries by six voice students from The Boston Conservatory.

Cage, who was inspired by the ancient Chinese divination text the I-Ching, created a multitude of works over his career that were based on the concept of chance. In 1970, he completed the composition of his Song Books—a large collection of songs that each fall under one of four categories: song, theater, song with electronics and theatre with electronics. With these works, Cage invites both the performers and audience members to free themselves from the confines of their personal preferences and purely experience the works with an open mind. The performers explore chance acts in order to discover every possible outcome, weaving together a visually and musically stimulating happening that responds to the ever-changing and energetic environment at the MFA. Visitors are encouraged to interact with performers as they wish, allowing them to personally experience this deeply engaging work.

Participating Conservatory students include Andrew O'Shanick (M.M. ‘16), Natalie Logan (M.M. ‘16), Lauren Cook (M.M. ‘16), Tzytle Steinman (B.M. ‘16), Rachel Barg (B.M. ‘16) and Simon Dyer (G.P.D. ‘17). Each of the artists participating in this project also performed in the Conservatory’s production of the opera Flight in the fall of 2015.Dyer, who curated the piece, previously performed some of the songbooks at the Spitalfields New Music Festival in London. For the MFA performance, he sought to develop a more extensive and intimate interpretation.

“Though at Spitalfields we were in very close contact with the audience, it was not personalin the way that I am asking the participants of this project to be,” said Dyer. “This program requires much more autonomy from the artists and we are going to be workshopping their songs to create something that speaks from Cage but also for their personalities.”

Performing contemporary music in non-traditional spaces is a key reason this project appealed to Dyer.

“I think it creates something unique for those who participate as observers,” he explained. “In my life, I have performed in a shopping mall, palaces of England, a tea clipper and an abandoned police station. I think music in concert halls and opera houses is extremely important, but we should also challenge the boundaries of our perceptions, reach out to new spaces—and therefore, new ears and eyes.”

Dyer has performed at the MFA once previously for a SoundBites project.

“With such a large and diverse audience, the museum allows us to reach people who may not have experienced such a fusion of music and art, as well as really challenge their opinions and concepts about what a museum space can be,” he added.

Kim Haack, director of external relations, who oversees the Conservatory Connections Program, noted that the Conservatory has had an ongoing relationship with the MFA, organizing opera, piano and chamber concerts as part of their SoundBites program as well as other special events in the galleries.

“We hope to cultivate programming around our new contemporary theater program in the future,” she added. “Performing in an unconventional space such as a museum adds life and sound to visual art that enhances the experience. We often use the collection as inspiration for our concert content—it allows our students a chance to explore and recognize the commonalities of all artists.”

Boston Conservatory performers present John Cage's Song Books
January 20, 2016
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Various Locations
Gallery 269, 270, 271, and 285

This event is free with admission.