“We all have this odd relationship with silence. We can be quite frightened of silence,” says Rainer Jozeps.
The classical music advisor for Dark Mofo and former managing director of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is now simply a “big fan” of the ASO. And he’s curated its next concert, Silence with your ASO, to be held this Friday in Grainger Studio on Hindley Street.
The two performances (at 1pm and 6pm) fall on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It’s the perfect time for exploring quietude. “At night, when the world goes quiet, that’s when the volume of the mind goes up,” says Jozeps.
Having practiced Buddhist meditation for 15 years, he’s well acquainted with the curious stillness of a quietened mind. “We think constantly, incessantly, habitually – we’re addicted to thinking,” he says. “What people don’t know, is that just like in music, silence is the background. Like a white canvas is to a painting, you can’t have musical sound without the backdrop of silence.”
The program will take the audience on a gentle journey through silence. The performance starts with the three bell chimes of Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, then moves through works by a range of influential composers, including Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 2 and Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune.
But hold your applause, because all sound is off limits. Jozeps knows that at first it might seem odd, even unappreciative, not to clap. But this event is free from social constructs.
For the concert’s finale, the ASO will present John Cage’s famous piece 4’33” (four minutes, thirty-three seconds) in an Adelaide-first performance. Composed in 1952, the controversial piece is – at least on the surface – complete silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. It’s been recreated by artists such as Frank Zappa, Moby and Depeche Mode.
Inspired by Zen Buddhism, Cage conceived the piece as a way of transcending the bounds of what is traditionally considered music. The audience is suspended in a kind of stillness that can open up infinite interpretations. There might be discomfort, or pleasure, or a sudden hyper-awareness of the background noise of everyday life.
“A friend of mine ‘conducted’ [4’33”] in a New Zealand concert,” says Jozeps. “The audience giggled, and they were fidgety, and called out funny comments like, ‘Encore!’ and this sort of thing. And that’s funny, but obviously, they felt uncomfortable with the silence.”
The ASO’s program, though, presents a curated sequence of pieces that transition towards increasing silence, allowing the audience to become gradually more comfortable with the vortex of sound. “We’re deliberately, quite consciously, playing pieces of music in a suite, designed to embrace stillness and calmness. To prepare the audience for silence,” says Jozeps.
Without audiences being primed for silence, Jozeps warns that the genius of 4’33” can be lost to the realm of awkward pauses. It’s much like how our need to fill conversations with nervous laughter dissipates in the presence of a really good friend.
Coinciding with the winter solstice is the International Day of Yoga. There’ll be no downward-dogs or sun salutations in the Grainger Studio, but premium tickets come with a yoga mat in the hope that audience members might sit – or lie in savasana – to experience the concert’s full effect.
Meditation – yoga’s heartbeat – is the central theme of the program. “When you practice meditation, the experience of silence, you learn to get better at focusing on the world and being in the present moment,” says Jozeps. “What I’ve tried to do is wrap all of that up into a concert.”
Silence with your ASO performs at 1pm and 6pm on Friday, June 21 at the Grainger Studio, 91 Hindley Street, Adelaide. Tickets are $50 (seated) and $60 for a yoga mat. Purchase tickets here.