Avant-garde composer John Cage is coming to town this weekend for what to his recollection is the first-ever retrospective of his vocal works -- which, he says, have nothing in common except that they don't use vibrato.
The works, from the 1940s to the present, will be performed Sunday and Monday at the French Embassy in concerts that conclude the District Curators' Cross Currents Festival.
The concerts will feature the Washington premiere of Cage's 1985 composition, "Sonnekus," which was composed for the first meeting of the Satie Society in West Germany. Cage calls composer Erik Satie one of his primary influences.
"I am devoted to his work because he was one of the first to free music from the climaxes and shapes of Beethoven. I am involved with freeing my work from my intentions and I think Satie was involved with that, too."
In the performance of "Sonnekus," Cage will read from the text of the lecture he gave at the Satie Society meeting, while Washington soprano Marilyn Boyd DeReggi sings the Sonnekus song.
Cage, 73, continues to produce innovative music, and continues to startle -- and sometimes offend -- his audiences.
"I don't think there's any one response to anybody's work," he says. "Very often people people still walk out . . . They come out of curiosity because they've heard of me and think they don't like it . . . At the end of concerts, though, most people stand up."
Because he's famous? "I don't know," he says.
He is working on an opera, which will premiere when he travels to West Germany next year, and a symphony, which he hopes to have finished by the time he travels to Japan, also next year. In addition, he lectures (an optional 7:30 p.m. lecture precedes his 8 p.m. performances here).
"I have ideas of retiring, but I can't do it," he says. His work, he feels, continues to progress and change. "My early pieces are probably more acceptable than the later pieces."
And he continues to be influenced by technology. He is working on a piece in which his own voice is projected through a computer. His compositional style, perhaps, is an inherited trait. "My father was an inventor, so I'm interested in new ideas."