In my column this week, I note that in May 1913 the Paris magazine Montjoie made a point of disdaining the centennial celebrations of Richard Wagner that were then occupying space in cultural publications. Instead, it declared that the best way to honor Wagner would be to embrace a new work by a radical young composer — as it turned out, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Now, rather ironically, the Rite has become one more cog in the anniversary machine that drives so much classical programming. There is much to be said against the anniversary racket, and Bob Shingleton said it well in a recent post. You can't find a more painfully obvious symbol of classical music's excessive fixation on the past. Nonetheless, I feel differently about the current cluster of events around twentieth-century composers and works: Cage, Britten, Nancarrow, the Rite, Pierrot lunaire. This is not a repetition of the already universally familiar (well, the Rite excepted); mainstream audiences are still coming to terms with the twentieth-century legacy, and these anniversaries are a chance to carry that process forward, and, perhaps, to banish at long last the "modern music" bogeyman.
All this is a roundabout prelude to further news about the Cage centennial, which continues to yield fascinating programs around the world. On Saturday, Bard College, home of the John Cage Trust, hosts On & Off the Air!, a celebration of Cage's radio work. A John Cage Festival at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music starts tomorrow and runs through the weekend, with performances by the likes of So Percussion and Stephen Drury. Two full days of talks and discussions include a presentation by D. J. Hoek on Northwestern's Cage collection. Down in Philadelphia, the ongoing Beyond Silence festival will turn its focus after Thanksgiving to the Song Books, with Joan La Barbara performing. Dancing Around the Bride, a panoramic exhibition of Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp, is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Up in Boston, Drury's Calllithumpian Consort will conclude a three-part Cage tribute at the Gardner in December. On Nov. 24, the Orchestre Philharmonique Luxembourg begins a series called Good Luck Rainy Days. And, here in New York, a Symphony Space series focused on Cage's 1989 improvisation exercise How to Get Started is pairing writers and musicians; tomorrow it's Wallace Shawn and Allen Shawn (sons of the legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn), and on Dec. 13 it's Robert Pinsky and John Wesley Harding, aka Wesley Stace. On the same night, the American Symphony gives a Cage Concert at Carnegie. More events can be found at Cage 2012.