With all the JohnCagelovetoday, I’m reminded of the most obnoxious performance of 4’33” to my mind. There’s the s—- eating grin of the BBC host, the bemused and knowing smirks of the audience, and practically an entire room of people not getting it, with the exception (maybe) of the orchestra itself.
This is a piece of music that no longer shocks not because 4’33” isn’t life-changing (it is), but because its context has been often perverted by half-hearted tributes (Cage Does Cage the brilliant exception). But Cage, like the best artists who don’t themselves too seriously, reveled in humor with the same energy for noise and meditation, too. So when the conductor here wipes his brow at 2:59, it’s a moment of levity for a piece that’s taken too seriously, taken too lightly. 4’33” just is.