A recording of music by the late-20th-century avant-garde composer John Cage has earned a Grammy nomination for acclaimed pianist Aron Kallay, an adjunct professor in Chapman University’s Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music.
Kallay and fellow musicians Vicki Ray, William Winant and Tom Peters were nominated for Cage: The 10,000 Things! in the category of Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. The recording is the first release from the label MicroFest Records, founded in 2013 by Kallay and Los Angeles composer and musician John Schneider.
This is the second Grammy nomination for Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music faculty in the last two years and indicates the high caliber of “world renowned faculty we have here in music” and helps students connect with the music world beyond academia, said Amy Graziano, Ph.D., conservatory chair.
“It’s a real good example of how a faculty member can combine creative and academic careers and have the creative career inform the teaching career and the teaching career inform the creative career,” Graziano said.
Moreover, students and the campus community enjoy a personal connection with some of the other performers on the recording. Last semester Ray joined Kallay, who teaches music technology at Chapman, as a guest artist in a recital at Salmon Hall.
“The hall was packed with not only Chapman students, but with people from the community. People came down from L.A. to hear them,” she said.
Indeed, Cage intended most of his music to be seen live and was famously resistant to having his work recorded. But Kallay is confident the late composer who pioneered electroacoustic music would have embraced this one. Because along with the I-Ching Edition of the recording comes a software application Kallay created that allows the listener to do what Cage intended for musicians – randomly shuffle music around like recipe ingredients to experience and discover something new in all the various combinations. Using the software while playing the music engages the listener in creating a kind of “found music,” he said.
“Cage’s music is supposed to be different every time, and we’re just trying to be true to that ideal,” Kallay said. “Cage’s whole idea is why does music need to be written down and performed in classic tradition?”
The overall composition includes five pieces of music with numerous solos, duos, trios and quintets, along with a rare recording of Cage himself reciting his “45’ For a Speaker.” That recording was found by Schneider in the Pacifica Radio archives. The piece Kallay performs from it comes in at 60 pages and 34 minutes and is described by the pianist as “a beast.” It’s also by design impossible to play. For example, in one moment Cages calls for 40 notes in one second. Such challenges dapple the entire composition, along with suggested notes for the use of finger cymbals, a mallet and even a referee’s whistle. The solution?
“It’s the performer’s job to decide as to what to focus on, so you’re allowed to step back and pick and choose,” he says. “I’m not the composer of the piece, but I had a hand in my performance of the piece.”
The version that was eventually recorded was performed in Santa Monica in 2012 and was called “exquisite” in a Los Angeles Times review. Kallay hopes the Grammy judges agree. He’ll find out at a pre-telecast afternoon ceremony Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Either way, he’ll have a smile on his face, he said.
“After that we’ll go to the ‘real Grammys’ with the really famous people,” he joked. “It should be a good day.”