Morton Feldman’s “Orchestra”

Notes by TŌN violinist Jacques Gadway

On the surface, Morton Feldman’s Orchestra looks like it may be a traditional symphonic work. However, after hearing the first few measures, one can be sure it is anything but traditional. While the orchestration calls for a relatively standard instrumental setting, Feldman effectively expresses his disconnection to conventional western harmony and structure. Orchestra is a journey through the sounds of the orchestra. It is easy to feel his attraction to visual art when listening to the piece. In 1950, Feldman met John Cage at a concert in Carnegie Hall. The two were both leaving early from the concert as neither of them were interested in the second piece on the program. They both went to hear Webern’s 12-tone symphony and bonded over their mutual appreciation for the piece. They became quick friends, and Feldman became one of the many artists in John Cage’s circle. Out of all of them, Feldman loved the visual artists: the painters. He even went on to develop graphic notation in an inspired effort to eliminate some of the machine-like components of music making. While Orchestra does not utilize graphic notation and is written in traditional western notation, it is clear that he does not abandon the concepts he developed in his notation innovations. It is almost like a painting, however instead of writing the music graphically, he treats the orchestra like the canvas. With the symphony, he paints a world the listener can get lost within.

Written for the concert Abstraction in Music & Art, performed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sun, May 19, 2019.