Feldman’s Mesmerising Homage to John Cage

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Morton Feldman, For John Cage: Darragh Morgan (violin); John Tilbury (piano). Purcell Room, London. 8.10.2012 (CC)

This was a remarkable performance, one that seemed shrouded in the aura of John Tilbury’s experience in this music. Tilbury is rightly seen as a foremost interpreter of Feldman. He was joined by young Belfast-born violinist Darragh Morgan (b. 1974), who seemed to think little of being in a very exposed spotlight for just under 90 minutes.

This concert, part of the Ether Festival, was devised to celebrate Cage’s centenary. Morgan and Tilbury have performed this piece a number of times, as well as recording it for Matchless Recordings.  That they sound so comfortable in Feldman’s expansive piece is indicative of their resonance with the score. The music exists almost exclusively on the lower part of the dynamic spectrum. Small gestures (one could call then Webernian, except they absolutely sound like no-one other than Feldman) are explored in depth. The demands on the players are great. Never should the concentration flag – this is true chamber music, in which the reactions of one musician to the other are paramount. Not only that, they are put under a microscope. Everything is ruthlessly exposed.

John Tilbury’s command of nuance and subtle gradations of tone, not to mention the creation of otherworldly sound structures, is unparalleled in my experience. Morgan almost but not quite managed to equal him. While one was continually in awe of the steadiness of Morgan’s bow arm and his command of harmonics, it was the sounds coming from the piano that continually enchanted. Tilbury’s way of weighting chords spoke of years of close study and provided a truly mesmerising experience.

The full audience was generally held to silence by the sheer concentration of what was going on onstage. Just occasionally someone got up to leave – it is not easy listening to Feldman; he demands a meditative but focussed concentration. However, it was a testament to the strength of Morgan and Tilbury’s reading that the atmosphere was so special. Their performance projected a sense of space that makes the recording by Christina Fong and Paul Hersey (on Ogreogress) sound rushed and superficial.

To explore Feldman’s music for violin and piano further, try the two-disc set on Dabringhaus and Grimm with Andreas Seidel and Steffen Schleiermacher (review).


Colin Clarke