Watch now: The Berlin Phil performance of Cage’s 4’33”

Watch now: The Berlin Phil performance of Cage’s 4’33”


norman lebrecht

November 03, 2020

It happened on Saturday night, before silence fell on Berlin.

Can’t wait for the DG recording.

photo: Berlin Phil/Monika Rittershaus


  • Max says:

    What’s the point in playing 4’33”, if it’s 3’02”????

    • Soizbuaga says:

      He just took faster tempi…

    • Charlotte says:

      The title refers to the length of the premiere in 1952. Cage writes in the score: “However, the work may be performed by any instrumentalist(s) and the movements may last any lengths of time.” If you watch the performance on Youtube, you can stop it at the moment, when the camera shows the score and try to read it (though it’s written with the hand, kind of tough to read).

    • NN says:

      Maybe a tricky decision. 4’33” is under copyright and shortening the piece could mean copyright infringement. But maybe the “arrangement” is accepted by the publisher.
      Although John Cage was for some time a marxist, he did not share his copyrights with performing friends…
      Mike Batt had a legal tussle over the right to silence with the estate of John Cage and it seems he had to pay £100,000 at the end of the day

    • Maestro4 says:

      They didn’t take any repeats.

  • J Morris Jones says:

    I definitely prefer Lawrence Foster’s interpretation. More character – and better camerawork from the BBC

  • sam says:

    Kirill Petrenko trying his very best to channel Marina Abramovic.

    This is unintelligent performance art at its most self-indulgent. What’s he going to do next, conduct the in-between-movements of symphonies and intermissions?

  • Roman says:

    It is not music, it is a modern performance act. I guess most people go to concert halls for music though.

  • Novagerio says:

    Why is he using the score?

  • sangundklanglos says:

    It was contribution to the “#SangUndKlanglos” initative by the Munich Philharmonic and other orchestras, musicians etc,. supported by #alarmstuferot. On Monday 8pm many intitutions streamed or posted videos of silence in order to protest against the shutdown of all cultural insitutions.

  • Couperin says:

    The score allows the performance to last as long as the performer wishes. The piece is titled 4’33” only because that’s how long the first performance lasted. It could only be called “traditional” for most people to actually use 4’33” as a timing but it’s not necessary. Might as well use the score and parts because, why not? And besides, logically it’s impossible for any performance to last 4’33” because when are the actual points of measurement? And what would be the point of measuring in the first place? Sorry to be the anti-snark guy for this piece but, if we overthink it we miss the simple beauty of the concept and of the performance itself. Get over it.. Bravo Berlin!

  • Nigel Goldberg says:

    Without silence there is no sound

  • Doug says:

    I love the sound quality of the “original instruments”!

  • Raymond Jones the Radio Guy says:

    I still prefer the Grade 2 arrangement for junior high groups: ‘2:16’

  • Firing Back says:

    Another display of utter stupidity and self pleasuring.

    No wonder the general public thinks the ‘classical music’ industry is so ‘up’ itself, irrelevant and unworthy of decent funding.

    There’s a pandemic – people are dying. Anyone half sensible looking on at this wankfest will roll their eyes and think musicians should be abolished.

    The industry is killing itself.

  • Gustavo says:

    The sound after the pandemic.

  • Herbster says:

    Seriously, Are we to take this seriously?

  • William Safford says:

    Most people commenting on Cage’s piece, do not know the history of it.

    I did not attend the world premiere, but I have attended concerts in that hall.

    It is a beautiful, rustic setting. The sounds of nature make their way into the hall.

    Cage’s point was for the audience to appreciate all the sounds of nature (and other sources of sound) that one would hear in the hall.

    Of course, it’s not a piece of music in the conventional sense. But it was a way to get people to open their ears to sounds that surround us.

    Of course, it has also become a joke and a punch line. And the reality is that there was a lot of silliness in certain music circles from that period of time. This piece does not lampoon those other “works,” but, at least to me, it had more significance than most other contemporary rhetorical statements.

    • Eric Alterman says:

      Well said. The piece is an invitation to listen to the sound around us and experience it in a fresh way. The structure of the piece and ceremony of the concert space allow us to perceive the “music” that inhabits the space, if we let it. This may be a familiar practice to those who meditate, and John Cage practiced Zen Buddhism.

      I would have been moved to experience this work in person in the context of the shutdown. The dismissiveness in this thread is sad, and I wonder if those who critique the piece have ever tried to open themselves to truly listening to it.

      • William Safford says:

        Thank you.

        There is an analogy to be made to the recent discussion of Florence Foster Jenkins.

        I never knew anything about her health background, until recently. I knew that she was a socialite, and a benefactor of the arts. I did not know, however, that she had a severe health issue that probably created an inability for her to realize how poor her singing was. Nor did I know that she was at least a competent pianist in her youth.

        This knowledge has led me to reassess everything about her.

        In the same way, if someone does not know the background of Cage’s 4′ 33″, one can jump to all sorts of unkind conclusions. With knowledge of its genesis as well as Cage’s philosophical leanings, the “work” makes more sense.

        I do wonder, though, if it retains much relevance today, outside of its original venue, and if it has served its purpose. I don’t know.

  • Player says:

    He is giving conducting a bad name here. Absurd!

  • Ricardo says:

    From someone who gets it:
    It is neither a joke nor a serious piece. Neither is it music, not does it pretend to be. It is what it is. You get it or you don’t.

  • Musician says:

    Those of you commenting negatively about this performance do not understand the deep pain among us musicians at being silenced and ignored through this pandemic. Thank you Berlin, and Petrenko.

  • You can assert all sorts of lofty interior dimensions to this piece but it’s like a “woman driver” joke… very much of its time and not amusing anymore.

  • Alexander T says:

    I could perform it just as well.

  • Alexander T says:

    The whole thing only lasted just over three minutes.
    The audience didn’t get their money’s worth.
    Ein Schwindel !!

  • Alexander T says:

    Some say it is Cage’s best work.

  • A Pianist says:

    I am exhausted with pseudo-intellectuals thinking this piece has anything to do with Buddhism, Zen or otherwise. Only some cheap cardboard cutout Buddhism. Buddhism is a grand tradition and does not deserve to be associated with a gimmick.

  • sorin says:

    Petrenko’s auto-proof of being an idiot.

  • Roy says:

    ‘classical’ music is currently in a silence – nothing decent has been written since 1980

  • JoshW says:

    The point of this was cheapened by The Maestro’s ridiculous over-emoting. If he was trying to be serious, he’s pathetic. If he was trying to make a joke, that’s even worse. I am embarrassed for him.

  • Conductor simp says:

    poor conductor. that musta hurt.

  • Schnitzel von Krum says:

    I fall squarely amongst the sceptical when it comes to performance art of the Cagean variety, but I have to say I think most of the commenters here have missed the point. Yes, Mr. Safford is no doubt right in saying that the original intent was to get the audience to listen more intently to the ambient or natural sounds surrounding the building. But any true work of art can and should be subject to constant reinterpretation. Petrenko is entirely within his rights to reinterpret Cage’s work in the context of the pain caused by the renewed shut-down of live music in Germany.
    My only criticsm would be that the theatricality of the performance would have been greatly enhanced if the players had been allowed or encouraged to respond to the painful and frustrated gestures of the conductor. As it is, their immobile postures give the impression of disinterest, which surely can’t have been the intention.
    Nevertheless I salute the performance and the potent idea behind it. And who gives a damn about the timing.

  • Bimmo says:

    Just over three minutes ! If it’s going to be performed do it properly. BBCSO Barbican was a far superior performance !

  • Duncan McLennan says:

    I once saw on TV a critique of a “work of art”. The artwork consisted of a ladder leaning against a wall and a coloured beach ball lodged by the left foot of the ladder. The “artist” explained to the critic/compere why this arrangement was in her view a work of art.

    He was unconvinced. He picked up the beach ball and placed it by the right foot of the ladder. “Is that a work of art?” he asked.

    “No” replied the “artist”. “Why not?” he inquired.

    “You’re not an artist.” And she seemed to be serious.