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Music for Merce

To affirm life . . . not to a specialized world of art, but to the open, unpredictably changing world of everyday living.

—John Cage


Music for Merce features an all-star cast of former Cunningham collaborators convened by guest curator John King.

Each day presents a unique program of the musicians’ historic and new works, with electronic music, traditional instruments, and vocals performed in different small and large ensembles. For the grand finale each day, all ten composers play a version of a Cunningham Event—each individually devising a unique time-score before performing together as one big sound, revealed for the first time during the performance itself.

Merce Cunningham and John Cage, partners in life and art, defied expectations of how to do things. Their restless explorations not only revolutionized their individual fields, they also changed the relation of music and dance. Instead of choreographing dance to music, they created both elements separately and brought them together at the performance—fundamentally changing the nature of how we experience performance. As Cage wrote in a program note for an early Cunningham performance, this is art that doesn’t “say” something, but rather simply “presents” activity.

  • Major figures include:
  • * Vocalist Joan La Barbara
  • * Computer music pioneer David Behrman
  • * Multi-instrumentalist and inventor Fast Forward
  • * Electronics/ trombonist George Lewis
  • * Drummer Ikue Mori
  • * Harpist/ multi-instrumentalist Zeena Parkins
  • * Singer/ songwriter/ drummer Phil Selway
  • * Multi-instrumentalist Quinta
  • Pianist Christian Wolff

Presented in conjunction with Merce Cunningham: Common Time

Running time: 120 minutes


Joan La Barbara

Photo: Camille Cooken


Sat, Feb 25

Christian Wolff

  • "Or 4 People" (1994)

Christian Wolff, George Lewis, David Behrman, and John King

Joan La Barbara

  • "Solitary Journeys of the Mind" (2011)

Joan La Barbara

Philip Selway/Quinta

  • "Yaasholl" (2014)

Philip Selway, Quinta, and Ikue Mori

  • "One Note Arpeggio" (2014)

Philip Selway and Quinta

  • "Of Course I Do" (2014)

Philip Selway, Quinta, and John King

John Cage

  • "Fontana Mix" with "Aria" and "Indeterminacy" (1958–ongoing)

(performed simultaneously)

  • "Fontana Mix"

Ikue Mori and David Behrman

  • "Aria"

Joan La Barbara

  • "Indeterminacy"

Fast Forward


  • David Tudor
  • Untitled (1975/94)

John King

John King

  • "petite ouverture en forme de mErCE CunninGHAm" (2009)

Christian Wolff, Quinta, George Lewis, and John King

  • Event

Full ensemble

Sun, Feb 26

George Lewis

  • "Shadowgraph, 5" (1977)

Joan La Barbara, George Lewis, Ikue Mori, Zeena Parkins, Quinta, and Fast Forward

Zeena Parkins

  • "Captiva Pieces for Acoustic Harp and Processing" {bio: (2016–ongoing)

Zeena Parkins and David Behrman

David Behrman

  • "Long Throw" (2007–ongoing)

David Behrman, Christian Wolff, John King George Lewis, Zeena Parkins, and Quinta

  • Ikue Mori
  • Solo: Ikue Mori

Duet: Ikue Mori and Christian Wolff


Earle Brown

  • "December" (1952)} and "November" (1952)
  • {bio: (performed simultaneously)

Zeena Parkins, Joan La Barbara, Quinta, George Lewis, Philip Selway, and Christian Wolff

Fast Forward

  • "Octopoda" (2017)}

Fast Forward, Ikue Mori, Phil Selway, and George Lewis

  • Event

Full ensemble

George Lewis

Photo: Emily Peragine

Pre-Show Talk

Join performers of Music for Merce one hour before the performance on Sunday, February 26, for a pre-show conversation.

Ikue Mori

Photo: Scott Irvine

About the Artist

John King is a composer, guitarist, and violinist who has worked collaboratively with and been commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Ethel, the Bang On a Can All-Stars, Avant Media, and the Belgrade Philharmonic, as well as by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and Mannheim Ballet. He has written several operas: ping and what is the word with texts by Samuel Beckett, impropera using randomly selected text messages from the singers' cell phones, and herzstuck/heartpiece with texts by Heiner Muller, to name a few. King was the codirector of the Music Committee for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 2003 until it's closing in 2011. He is the recipient of the 2009 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music and the 2014 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award for Sound/Music. Recently, King was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation/Bellagio Residency for March 2016, in addition to residencies at The McDowell Colony, New Hampshire, and The Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice, Italy.

Phillip Selway

Image courtesy of Phillip Selway