It’s the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer John Cage. It’s also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy. Why no celebrations, concerts, ticker-tape parades for the sort-of-famous impressionist composer? asked New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini recently. The answer is because, seriously, who gives a shit about Debussy? Orchestras typically love anniversaries as reasons to draw up theme programs, but only when those anniversaries are for composers most people enjoy: Mozart, Beethoven, and the like. John Cage, like Debussy, is not one of them. Cage was an already weird composer of random ambient sounds before he discovered Zen Buddhism in the 1950s and got even stranger, at times jettisoning instruments and music altogether; his influence is felt more in the noise-rock and anti-art scenes than modern classical. That’s what makes D.C.’s weeklong festivities such a pleasant surprise. Highlights include tonight’s reading of Cage’s radio play James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet at the Corcoran, an open-ended Cage potpourri program performed by 77 musicians at the Library of Congress (Sept. 6, free), a piano concert by Stephen Drury at the Kreeger Museum (Sept. 8, $35), and art exhibitions at the National Gallery, American University Museum at the Katzen, and the Phillips Collection. Better luck in 2062, Debussy.
The John Cage Centennial Festival opens at 6:45 p.m. at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. Advance registration required. $15 for nonmembers. corcoran.org. (202) 639-1700. See a complete festival schedule at johncage2012.com.