Scott Comanzo, composer and director of The Generous Ensemble, spearheaded a massive undertaking to create a one-of-a-kind John Cage centennial concert. It features the ensemble performing Cage’s Variations I and a gigantic call for scores, in which 132 composers from around the world made variations on Satie’s Vexations, to be presented as Satie indicated obscurely (so that his piece is performed 840 times in succession). Since John Cage was the pioneering American champion of Satie’s music, this seemed like a fitting way to celebrate what would be Cage’s 100th birthday.
As a way for this blog to honor the legacy of Cage, I wrote 4.33 questions to Scott and have chance-operated the order of the questions (with his original responses) below. As a final note before this textual “interview”, I would say do come out to CCSU if you’re in the CT region on Wednesday, September 5th, to hear this promising concert–the ensemble is a top-notch, well-oiled new music machine, and there has been a huge amount of preparation to make this a great performance.
What were the main challenges in bringing the Vexations Project to life?
Doing something like this for the first time.
Trying to please everybody all the time.
Harassing composers that might have forgotten the deadline.
All of the usual difficulties in putting on any concert or festival – venue, percussion, people’s schedule’s –
– the thing that was different about this then let’s say the Private Works Festival that I do – is that the rep is there (after a little chasing)
This project so far though has had so many small victories and so much great encouragement from the composers and our mentor for this project, Neely Bruce. That stuff keeps you going – I haven’t cried once in preparations for this concert! And my only sleepless night was last night!
What does John Cage mean to the Generous Ensemble?
a. And to you?
This is going to be a confusing answer. I come at it from so many angles – I’ll try to keep it brief. The Generous Ensemble has various father’s, mother’s, Aunts and Uncles -Michael Schelle is the most notable GE Godfather. But Cage is a giant and I don’t see how any composer or performer or artist or spectator or listener cannot be affected, inspired and influenced by him. So, for instance, Cage was a great point of similarity between Erin and I in those initial conversation and plans.My personal stuff is wrapped up in TheGE for obvious reasons: and my goals with music and with this kind of ensemble is to take-on/carry-on the tradition started around the 40’s and 50’s – Two tiered trajectory in my mind – John Cage and Elliot Carter (whose apartment I visited to ask him to do one of the contributions!) – sometimes it feels that that tradition is eschewed as something too iconic to follow – there’s a tendency for composers, and to a little less degree depending on the instrument they play – performers, young and old to engage in what I call Cage-baiting. There’s notational machismo wrapped up in that as well.Cage is also so versatile! A perfect new music ensemble is one that can tackle John Cage’s oeuvre from the amazingly technical to the amazingly “vague.” And the wonderful examples, like Variations 1 that we’ll be playing where it somehow merges the two. Neely said to us something to the effect of the way we’ve tackled the Vexations project is in the tradition buoyed by John Cage and therefore a much more apt way to celebrate his legacy.Well I hope I gave enough credit and what not all around about this – the composers and the players and a lot of volunteerism and administrative work and assistance – it’s all such an undertaking, and such a team thing – such a community thing…
How do the Project rehearsals sound so far (egs. lots of variety in the music, very homogenous music, lots of energized performers, lots of tired performers, many frustrated cutters and pasters, etc.)?
I set very high goals for the amount of stuff to get done in one rehearsal and (not blowing smoke up anybody’s … ) I enjoy everyone’s company so much and I think everybody in the ensemble does as well, that we’ve rehearsed in that way – very relaxed – and very slow in a way -Things sound great! This group is really friggin’ good. And as Neely said to us “You can tell that (each composer) are really doing their best” – other than that it’s so diverse – you have the contributions that seem to be “done” right away – some require a lot of conversation – the conversation v. repetition ratio changes etc. etc. The players have not seemed tired yet, really – dealing with the various instrumental combinations and hitting on lots of “tacet” for one instrument or another – might be a slight problem but the players haven’t shown it – The energy level thanks to people like Andrew Studenski stays high pretty much the whole time
What initiated the idea for the 2012 Vexations Project?
I realized today that all of the cool things I’ve ever been associated with have come out of casual speculative conversations. The Generous Ensemble grew out of conversations between myself and Erin Camp, which likely grew out of conversations between Erin Camp and Stuart Breczinski.
THIS idea grew out of conversations with fellow Harford composer Jon Dostou. One conversation in the Allen Library (at the Hartt school) where he was studying for his Master’s comprehensive finals and had a Vexations score and in the mean time was asking for a generous commission. A few months later the conversation focused around the idea that we had no money to pay him and that it was just too much work for one human anyway. …the implications of this seem obvious… but maybe because I’m a student of Ken Steen who co-runs the nmnmne 60x60x60 project
. Also I had just taken on an exquisite corpse project this past year, so it was kind of still swimming in my brain a little bit. This ruminated in my mind for quite some time. And during that period I realized this would be a very interesting/uninhabited way to celebrate John Cage on his upcoming birthday. Then the summer went on and it was “shit or get off the pot” time. It was something that HAD to be done, I didn’t even stop to think if it was something I wanted
to do even – this MUST be attempted – and I’m probably too late anyway so I might as well try. So I contacted Charles Menoche at CCSU about the Venue and to Generous members and when I was just about to give up, I got enough feedback from them all that it was go time – and I put out the call. The rest was due diligence and good faith efforts