CO.LABORATIONS | Partnerships in Media and Culture


9 May 2019
Janskerkhof 13 - Stijlkamer (0.06)

Emily Payne – Utrecht Colloquia in the Musicologies 2018-19

Utrecht Colloquia in the Musicologies 2018-19 

‘Time management’ in indeterminacy: The conductor as ‘chronometer’ in John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra

Emily Payne (University of Leeds)


It seems self-evident that one of the primary functions of the conductor is to indicate and control the musical beat of an ensemble. Yet, as recent research has shown, the Romantic image of the omnipotent maestro presiding over the subordinate orchestra very rarely holds up in practice. However, the major focus of this scholarship has been repertoire of the common practice period, in which the experiences of performers have been viewed through a lens focused primarily on principles of coordination and cohesion, and that assumes the existence of unified performance practices. What happens when that unity does not exist, whether through chance, or deliberate resistance? This paper examines the role of the conductor in indeterminate music, using as a case study John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957–58). The orchestra plays from separate parts, and, working within a predetermined duration, each performer can choose to play any number of pages of the part. The conductor works from a performance part too, using both arms to imitate the hands of a clock, to, in Cage’s words, change ‘clock time to effective time’. Drawing on interviews and observational studies undertaken with the ensemble Apartment House, the paper examines the conceptual, aesthetic, and practical questions that the Concert raises for performance, and their implications for analysis.


Emily Payne is a Lecturer in Music Psychology at the University of Leeds, having previously been a Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the AHRC-funded project, ‘John Cage and the Concert for Piano and Orchestra’ (2015–18). Her research interests include psychological and anthropological approaches to the study of musical performance (particularly of post-war music), creativity, and collaboration. Her work is published in Contemporary Music Review, cultural geographies, Musicae Scientiae, and Music & Letters. She is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Time in Music, forthcoming in 2020. Emily also holds the roles of Academic Studies Tutor at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and Editorial Assistant for the journal Music & Science.


When? Thursday, 9 May 2019, 4.15 pm
Where? Janskerkhof 13 – Stijlkamer (0.06)