MaerzMusik – Festival Festival of Contemporary Music 2012

Musical poles: John Cage at 100 – Wolfgang Rihm at 60

Swishing cactus needles, crunching pods and gurgling shells – the performance of John Cage’s work “Branches” in the cactus house of the Botanical Gardens, which was composed of plant sounds and followed by a six-hour concert marathon in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, brought MaerzMusik 2012 to a phenomenal close. The Berliner Festspiele’s festival of contemporary music, with 42 events over 11 days, attracted over 10,000 visitors, who were delighted by the programme’s experimental poles. John Cage and Wolfgang Rihm, both of whom were celebrating anniversaries, represent two artistic positions that could hardly be more different in their respective radicalness.

According to the slogan “Cage & Consequences”, MaerzMusik 2012 offered a variety of concerts and performances, in which exemplary works by Cage were presented, as well as works from his immediate musical milieu and compositions by younger artists who reflect Cage’s thinking. The circumstances were fortunate, not to say, historical in that the festival gathered artistic associates, contemporaries, and artists closely linked to Cage for what could be the last time. Christian Wolff, the last living representative of the “New York School”, was able to take part. After renouncing travel for more than ten years, La Monte Young und Marian Zazeela’s concert cycle together with The Just Alap Raga Ensemble caused a sensation with their performance “Dream House”. Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma, who formed the legendary Sonic Arts Union from 1966 to 1976, were reunited for the first time for the programme. With musicians such as Joan La Barbara and Chris Mann participating, artists were involved who had been in close contact with John Cage. Dieter Schnebel, Alvin Curran, Phil Corner, Akio Suzuki and younger musicians such as Walter Zimmermann, Nicolas Collins, Marc Sabat, Elliott Sharp, Annie Gosfield, William Engelen and Tomomi Adachi are all artists whose work reflects an intensive dialogue with the impetus that John Cage created.

The outstanding artist Wolfgang Rihm, whose musical expression articulates the search for the highest expressiveness and subjective, creative freedom, was honoured on the occasion of his 60th birthday. A great symphony concert in the Philharmonic and a choir concert with exemplary works from Rihm’s former and earliest periods was celebrated with standing ovations. Full-length works by Sergej Newski and Mark Andre, who worked for the first time with the choreographer Sasha Waltz, were received with equal enthusiasm.

MaerzMusik invited 12 ensembles, among them the Arditti Quartett, the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the Remix Ensemble Porto, the RIAS-Kammerchor, the zeitkratzer Ensemble and the Sonar string quartet. A total of 300 artists took part in the performances, many of which were world, European and Germany premieres. A first for MaerzMusik was the inclusion of an extensive, international symposium. Contributions from over 20 artists and scholars on the theme of “Cage & Consequences” can be read in detail in the accompanying publication that was issued by Wolke Verlag.