John Cage in Japan (1962) – Photo by Yasuhiro Yoshioka, Courtesy of Sogetsu Foundation
They called it the “Cage Shock.” In 1962, the iconoclastic American composer John Cage toured Japan for a legendary series of concerts that served to draw attention to the rhymes between his works and the sounds of avant-garde and classical Japanese music. The tour cemented Cage as a pivotal figure in the East but the impact of that trip reverberated both directions. Cage had found truth and validation for his creative philosophy in Japan and returned to his experiences abroad as a wellspring of inspiration for the rest of his life.
Surprisingly, in the more than sixty years since Cage’s epochal overseas tour and in the decades since his death, there has been little conversation and almost no creative work presented focusing on the mutualistic relationship between one of the 20th century’s most important American artists and Japanese culture. Indeed, as Japan Society’s Artistic Director Yoko Shioya boldly posits, “If John Cage had not encountered Japanese culture, there would have been no John Cage!” To give proof to this assertion, Shioya has organized John Cage’s Japan, an original series of Cage-centric programming scheduled to take place this fall and winter at the luxurious Japan Society auditorium at 333 East 47th Street.
No less an authority than Laurie Anderson – Grammy-winning artist, student of Cage, and long-time friend of Japan Society – has called the John Cage’s Japan series “a wonderful project,” and agreed that “it is odd this has never been done before. So bravo!”
John Cage’s Japan kicks off with Paul Lazar’sCage Shuffle on September 28 and 29, a solo performance of spoken texts demonstrating Cage’s strong connection to Japan, directed by Tony Award-winner Annie-B Parson. Further underlining Cage’s Japanese inspirations, the series continues with innovative concerts curated by the composer, musician and internationally-recognized Cage expert Tomomi Adachi, in collaboration with New York’s own International Contemporary Ensemble, America’s leading ensemble for new instrumental work. Programs on October 21, November 16, and December 7 will each feature unique programming and acclaimed international guest performers, including Broadway vocalist and avant-garde composer Gelsey Bell, Noh actor Wakako Matsuda, and experimental sound artists Tania Caroline Chen and Victoria Shen.
This performance series will take place concurrently with the Japan Society Gallery’s upcoming visual arts exhibition Out of Bounds: Japanese Women Artists in Fluxus (guest curated by Dr. Midori Yoshimoto; running October 13, 2023 to January 21, 2024) which will include work from Yoko Ono, Cage’s accompanist and guide during his 1962 tour of Japan.
Tickets for all performances will go on sale to the general public on August 17 and to Japan Society members on August 10. Visit japansociety.org/performing-arts for the most up-to-date information and ticket links when available.
A number of the participants and supporters of these events are available for interviews in service of a feature article on the project, including Yoko Shioya, Artistic Director of Japan Society; Laura Kuhn, the Executive Director of the John Cage Trust; Paul Lazar, performer; Gelsey Bell, vocalist; Tomomi Adachi, composer and performer; and James Pritchett, Cage scholar.
More information on each of the programs in the John Cage’s Japan series follows below. Updated show descriptions will be redistributed closer to the dates of performance. Program details and lineup are subject to change.
JOHN CAGE’S JAPAN Program Schedule
CONTEMPORARY THEATER and MUSIC
Paul Lazar’s Cage Shuffle
Directed by Annie-B Parson
Thursday, September 28 at 7:30 pm – Followed by a Private Artists and Member Gathering
Friday, September 29 at 7:30 pm – Followed by an Artist Q&A
Tickets to each show are $35; $28 for Japan Society members
Discover Cage Shuffle, the critically acclaimed 50-minute spoken-word solo work featuring a randomly determined set of texts taken from John Cage’s 1963 “score,” Indeterminacy. In this captivating performance, the beloved New York artist Paul Lazar brings fifty of Cage’s personal koan-like anecdotes to life by following the composer’s notated instructions to read each aloud in exactly one minute. Through a mesmerizing blend of spoken word and meticulously choreographed movement masterfully directed by Tony Award-winner Annie-B Parson, audiences are treated to a thrilling experience where text and motion intertwine, creating connections that amuse and provoke contemplation. This production has wowed audiences worldwide since its 2017 premiere but, for this one-of-a-kind John Cage’s Japan commissioned program, Lazar has packed the overall deck of roughly 200 pieces with handpicked Cage commentary of Japanese considerations, Zen philosophy, and reminiscences and quotes from Cage’s noteworthy friends and contemporaries, including D.T. Suzuki, Isamu Noguchi and Hidekazu Yoshida.
“Cage Shuffle is beautiful, profound and hilarious—as all things should be.” – David Byrne
John Cage’s Ryoanji with Tomomi Adachi, International Contemporary Ensemble, Hitomi Nakamura, and Maki Ota
Saturday, October 21 at 8:30 pm
Preceded by a Lecture from Cage Scholar James Pritchett at 7:30 pm
Tickets are $40; $32 for Japan Society members
John Cage visited the renowned Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto in 1962. Over 20 years later, he would compose Ryoanji (1983) using non-ordinal graphical notation inspired by the Temple’s Zen rock garden. Embracing Cage’s free-spirited approach to scoring, the composer, musician and vocal performer Tomomi Adachi breathes modern life into Cage’s composition with a cutting-edge concert utilizing technology and creative spirit to connect two countries together in real time. New York’s International Contemporary Ensemble will perform alongside musicians playing live in Japan – Hitomi Nakamura on the ancient hichiriki woodwind and Maki Ota on vocals – streamed into the theater from a tea house in Kanazawa City, Japan. As an added visual treat, the performance will be accompanied by a captivating backdrop of hypnotic 3D visuals depicting the raked sand of the Zen garden created by Dr. Tsutomu Fujinami, a researcher at the prestigious Japan Advanced Institute for Science and Technology. A lecture on the origins of Cage’s fascination with Japanese culture and how those interests manifest in Ryoanji, led by John Cage scholar James Pritchett, precedes the performance.
CONTEMPORARY MUSIC – WORLD PREMIERE
Tomomi Adachi’s Noh-opera / Noh-tation: Decoding John Cage’s Unrealized Project with Tomomi Adachi, Gelsey Bell, Wakako Matsuda, and International Contemporary Ensemble
Thursday, November 16 at 7:30 pm
Followed by an Artist Q&A
Tickets are $40; $32 for Japan Society Members
John Cage’s unrealized project, Noh-opera: Or the Complete Musical Works of Marcel Duchamp, remains an intriguing could-have been in the maestro’s catalog. Cage envisioned a premiere in Japan, but not enough of the work was ever finished to be staged. In response to this dream project, composer and performer Tomomi Adachi freshly imagines the work into existence by seamlessly integrating captivating aspects of western opera and noh. Adachi’s artificial intelligence-written music and lyrics for the work are based on the confounding paradoxes found in Zen Buddhist koans, succinct but open-ended riddles on the human condition. This world premiere of Adachi’s composition will feature the distinctly unique voice of Gelsey Bell (recognized as the “future of experimental vocalism” by The NY Times), renowned Japanese noh actor Wakako Matsuda, and five wind instrumentalists from the International Contemporary Ensemble.
Cage Shock: An Homage to his First Japan Visit with Tomomi Adachi, Tania Caroline Chen, Victoria Shen, and International Contemporary Ensemble
Performing John Cage’s Haiku, Aria, Solo for Piano with Fontana Mix, 0’00”, and Toshi Ichiyanagi’s Sapporo
Thursday, December 7 at 7:30 pm
Followed by a Private Artists and Member Gathering
Preceded by a Lecture from Cage Scholar James Pritchett at 6:30 pm
Tickets are $40; $32 for Japan Society members
In collaboration with experimental sound artists Tania Caroline Chen and Victoria Shen, curator and featured artist Tomomi Adachi recreates the essential works performed at John Cage’s historic visit to Japan in 1962, often referred to as the “Cage Shock.” Through renditions of Cage’s iconic pieces, such as Haiku, Aria, Solo for Piano with Fontana Mix and 0’00”, Adachi recaptures the thrilling spirit of that transformative tour. The evening will also feature a string quartet of musicians from the International Contemporary Ensemble performing Sapporo (1962) by Toshi Ichiyanagi (1933-2022), the esteemed Japanese composer and first husband of Yoko Ono. Ichiyanagi developed a close friendship with Cage during his residency in New York City and played a pivotal role in organizing Cage’s visits to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Sapporo. A pre-concert lecture, delivered one hour prior to the start of the show by musician and Cage scholar James Pritchett, will provide background on the radical nature of the evening’s repertoire and a grounding perspective on how to best appreciate these works today.
About Japan Society
Japan Society is the premier organization connecting Japanese arts, culture, business, and society with audiences in NYC and around the world. In over 100 years of work, we’ve inspired generations by establishing ourselves as pioneers in supporting international exchanges in arts and culture, business and policy, as well as education between Japan and the US. From our New York headquarters, a landmark building designed by architect Junzo Yoshimura that opened to the public in 1971, we are perfectly situated to strive forward into the next century.
Since the inception of Japan Society Performing Arts Program, the Program has brought 1000+ productions of and inspired by Japan to audiences in NYC and beyond through North American tours organized by Japan Society. Programs range from the traditional arts to contemporary theater, dance and music. Since the establishment of the Performing Arts Endowment in 2005, the Society also commissions non-Japanese artists to create Japan-related new works through fostering cross-cultural collaboration that has become part of its important mission.
Support for the 2023-2024 Japan Society Performing Arts Season
The season is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.
Major support for the season is generously provided by Doug and Teresa Peterson, and Hisamitsu America, Inc. Endowment support is provided by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund; the John and Miyoko Davey Endowment Fund; and the Endowment for the Performing Arts, established with a leadership gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Additional support is provided by Dr. and Mrs. Carl F. Taeusch II, Dr. Jeanette C. Takamura, Estate of Alan M. Suhonen, and Friends of the Performing Arts. Transportation assistance is provided by All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd. Yamaha is the official piano provider of Japan Society.
Major support for Ryoanji, Noh-opera / Noh-tation, and Cage Shock comes from Doug and Teresa Peterson, with additional support by Nancy and Joe Walker. Noh-opera / Noh-tation is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.