John Cage Uncaged: A weekend of musical mayhem

Friday 16 Sunday 18 January 2004, Barbican Centre

The BBC Symphony Orchestra (SO) gives the first orchestral performance in the UK of John Cage's seminal silent work 4'33" in the opening concert of its forthcoming annual Composer Weekend at the Barbican on Friday (16 January 2004).

BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting the performance live and is the first broadcaster to risk airing nearly five minutes of ambient silence, with BBC FOUR broadcasting it an hour later.

Radio 3's emergency backup systems, designed to cut in when there is apparent silence on air, are to be switched off.

4'33" demonstrates Cage's view that all sound is music and that, "Wherever we are what we hear mostly is noise". He wrote: " When we ignore noise, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating."

This is just one of the events in the BBC's forthcoming John Cage Uncaged at the Barbican from Friday 16 to Sunday 18 January, a packed weekend of concerts, talks, films and 'happenings' to celebrate the life, influences and legacy of this maverick musician, writer, artist, mushroom expert and cultural icon who died in 1992.

The weekend also includes the largest ever Musicircus to be staged in Europe with more than 345 people divided into 51 groups performing simultaneously or carrying out various actions in unexpected places throughout the Barbican in two separate 45-minute events on Saturday afternoon.

Just some of the sonic collisions taking place include Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones playing a flashing bass guitar, members of the BBC Symphony Chorus having a dinner party on the foyer, amplified cacti (kindly lent to the BBC by Kew Gardens), one man playing five tubas connected by 16 feet of tubing and singers disguised as Barbican staff who will sing information to you.

There will be a host of well known groups and performers from Piano Circus to Chinese Erhu player Tzy-Tau Weh and Pete Cooper's Irish Band to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Percussion Ensemble, who also give a late night Barbican Hall concert featuring Cage's great works for percussion.

Among the other highlights are an 18-hour performance of Erik Satie's marathon piano work Vexations given by more than 50 pianists from top classical performers and composers to jazz stars Django Bates and Julian Joseph.

There will also be a performance of material from Cage's Songbooks which involves sopranos Frances M Lynch and Nicole Tibbels, along with pianist Rolf Hind, drinking gin, eating crisps, playing cards and having a party, as well as singing.

The BBC SO's annual January Composer Weekends at the Barbican have become highlights in London's musical life, bringing the music of leading twentieth, and now twenty-first century, composers to the fore in a concentrated festival.

The January Weekends offer an unrivalled retrospective of musicians who have shaped the course of classical music and have recently included Alfred Schnittke, John Adams and Mark-Anthony Turnage.

John Cage Uncaged promises to be one of the most spectacular January Weekends yet with various artists and ensembles joining the BBC Symphony Orchestra for events in the Barbican Hall, foyers and conservatory, St Giles Cripplegate and LSO St Luke's.

Five Barbican Hall concerts feature an extensive range of music by Cage and the BBC Symphony Chorus gives the world premiere of Cage's Variations I for Stephen Montague (1958/90), realised by the dedicatee.

To set Cage in his context there's music by his American predecessors and heroes.

Works that will surprise by Antheil, Cowell and Ives alongside the mainstream as represented by Copland, Schuman and Alan Hovhaness while his contemporaries and successors are represented by the members of the New York School: Brown, Feldman and Wolff.

The weekend also includes a line-up of talks with an introduction to the mushroom garden by leading gardening expert Sefan Buczacki taking place in the weekend's very own mushroom garden.

There will also be a panel discussion examining Cage's legacy and films including Elliot Caplan's portrait of Cage and his relationship with his life-long companion Merce Cunningham and Peter Greenaway's insightful hour-long film.

Much of the weekend is broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and there is a host of features, interval talks and discussions to complement the music.

The opening concert is broadcast on BBC FOUR.