Review: Pianist Eliza Garth performs John Cage’s ‘Sonatas and Interludes’

We expect music to play with both our minds and our bodies. We anticipate what’s coming next and then are surprised or gratified.

With his “Sonatas and Interludes” for prepared piano, written after being introduced to the music and philosophy of India, John Cage, however, stripped away all this stuff. He intended it to be meditative in nature, a bridge between East and West, and its 20 short movements exist in the moment and set up no expectations whatsoever. It’s an hour of directionless music that hovers overhead, lingers from time to time, embraces occasional tensionless silences and rarely reminds you of anything. It’s also absorbingly lovely when played with the commitment and delicacy that pianist Eliza Garth devoted to her performance Thursday at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center.

“Prepared” according to Cage’s instructions with an assortment of nuts and bolts, pencil erasers and plastic tubing that are stuck in between 43 of its strings, the piano in this piece is a whole percussion band that produces the sounds of gongs, bells, muffled thuds and some things too weird to describe, alongside, of course, the regular piano sounds of its un-fussed-with notes. Most of the hovering takes place quietly on the upper half keyboard and Garth, with a touch that allowed for almost ethereal transparency, played the meditative mind game expertly. That there was nary a cough, a dropped program or even an audible rustle anywhere in the audience through the whole hour spoke to her and Cage’s success.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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