Various Artists

Orchestral Works, Vol. 1: 101 for Large Orchestra/Apartment House 1776/Ryoanji

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This release compiles three major works performed by the New England Conservatory Philharmonia. As the title suggests, "101" (1989) is for 101 instrumentalists who all play from individual parts and are not coordinated by a score. The instrumental parts contain a note from Cage comparing the orchestra to a society and quoting Thoreau: "The best form of government is no form of government at all, and that is the form we'll have when we are ready for it." A mysterious aura results from the orchestral combinations. "Apartment House 1776" for four voices and chamber orchestra, written for a Bicentennial commission, presents four performers of unaltered Protestant, Sephardic, Native American, and African American traditional songs, with a chamber orchestra playing chance-based transformations of music from the American landscape of that year. There are variants of hymn settings called "Harmonies," with notes selectively removed as if lost in time, "Imitations" for clarinet and cello based on Moravian church music, "Marches" for solo drums, and "Tunes" for melody instruments. Any combinations of this material can be arranged into a performance, creating a mixed mood of echoes from long ago, religious feeling, contemporaneous fleeting images, and a hopeful future. In this version of "Ryoanji" (1983-1985), four soloists play sliding pitches, shapes traced from the outlines of 15 stones comprising the Zen Buddhist rock garden in Kyoto. The 20-piece orchestra plays steady widely spaced pulses slightly before, slightly after, and directly on a beat. Employing these two basic ingredients -- the sliding tones for the soloists and the "Korean unison" beats for the orchestra -- Cage created a work of gentle suspense and plaintive beauty.