Get to know pianist Rolf Hind

Rolf Hind, photo: Skel Nicolau

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth, pianist Rolf Hind, one of our great interpreters of modern piano music, collaborates with acclaimed choreographer Rui Horta, dancer Silvia Bertoncelli and a cat named Mia in a new work that showcases the genius of one of the twentieth century’s great artists. We caught up with Rolf to ask him some quick questions.

What do you fear the most and why?
Death. For all the usual reasons.

What – or where – is perfection?
Everything is as it is meant to be.

What’s your favourite ritual?
Meditation. Also drinking coffee!

Which living person do you most admire (and why)?
One – of many – who just springs to mind: Arundhati Roy. wrote a wonderful book, but didn’t make a ‘career’ of art. Now a very brave and vocal activist and polemicist. True to herself.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
I wish I’d started the cello when I was young. I adore the instrument, it has a kind of embodiment and sheer physicality that surpasses all the others. Sounds beautiful across an enormous range too.

Tell us about a special memory you have of Southbank Centre?
Ten years ago I played a QEH concert for Boulez’ birthday with newly commissioned pieces which all came out on CD after the event. It was an exciting evening.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
Rumi, Kabir, Farinelli, Szymanowski, Bartok, EM Forster, Proust, Rufus Wainwright, Bjork, Messiaen, Lachenmann, Diamanda Galas. That’s just the top dozen!

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Be kind. And start with yourself.

What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?
I hardly listen to recorded music. Prefer to make, play, hear or imagine it live. But if I need a boost I often return to the gypsy music of Taraf de Haidouks.

Tell us a bit about how the collaboration for Danza Preparata came about.
The very foresighted artistic director of the Casa da Musica in Porto approached me a couple of years ago and I went to see some work of Rui Horta’s in Lisbon. I was blown away by Rui Horta, as man and artist. He is an extraordinary bundle of energy and a serious polymath, whose work should be even better known than it is.

Sum up Danza Preparata in one sentence.
Exquisite dancing, lighting, concept and music, respectful and playful: a lovely gift for Cage.

How much of an impact do you feel Cage made on 20th century classical music?
A large one: I see him as the Warhol of music (many may disagree!) I don’t always love all the work, but even when I don’t I see it as something akin to the meditation I practise – an opportunity to find new perspective on one’s experience, or to dwell on an idea (like a Zen koan, a kind of riddle..)

It allows listeners, composers and performers to react in a new way. It also marks a serious attempt to integrate the philosophical tenets of certain aspects of Eastern thought with Western sounds, in a much more thorough way than the ‘orientalisme’ that often came before.

It’s also about emancipation: for instruments (redeployed, reconfigured, reinvented) for sound (liberated from the heft of grammar and meaning) and for the USA (liberated from Western Europe!)

What’s next for you?
On November 24th in the Barbican, the wonderful accordionist, James Crabb, premieres my biggest orchestral piece, a concerto called The Tiniest House of Time with the BBCSO.

See Rolf Hind performing John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano in Danza Preparata as part of Ether 2012 at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 16 October. Get tickets here. 

John Cage iPhone app!

Celebrate John Cage’s 100th birthday by playing the CagePiano app on your phone!

One of the many ingenious innovations of American composer/writer/artist John Cage was his creation of the ‘prepared piano’, in which he placed objects beneath and between the strings of a grand piano to create an entirely new instrument.

John Cage Prepared Piano app

John Cage Prepared Piano app

John Cage Prepared Piano app

Southbank Centre’s Ether 2012 is presenting John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano live at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 16 October. Get tickets here. 

Listen to our John Cage Spotify playlist

John Cage was the most influential and controversial American experimental composer of the 20th Century. He was the father of indeterminism, a Zen-inspired aesthetic which expelled all notions of choice from the creative process.Rejecting the most deeply help compositional principles of the past – logical consequence, vertical sensitivity, and tonality among them – Cage created a ground-breaking alternative to the serialist method, de-constructing traditions established hundreds and even thousands of years earlier; the end result was a radical new artistic approach which impacted all of the music composed in its wake, forever altering not only the ways in which sounds are created but also how they’re absorbed by audiences. Indeed it’s often been suggested that he did to music what Karl Marx did to government – he levelled it.

John Cage

On 16 October, as part of Ether 2012, pianist Rolf Hind, one of our great interpreters of modern piano music collaborates with choreographer Rui Horta and a cat named Mia in a new work that showcases the genius of one of the twentieth century’s great artists and his Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, a group of 20 short pieces for prepared piano that are often considered amongst his finest achievements.

Have a listen to our John Cage spotify playlist, featuring some of his best know work including the infamous 4’33” plus a selection of his Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Click below to listen.  

Listen here


Catch Danza Preparata – John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano – at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 16 October as part of Ether 2012. Get tickets here. 



Check out our online classical music guide

Welcome to Southbank Centre’s 2011/12 classical music season packed with
musical greats, firsts and concerts from our four world-class Resident Orchestras. Visit our online guide to take you through our packed programme!
We kicked off the season in full swing with a sold out performance from Apartment House of John Cage Night as part of International Chamber Music Season. Read Guardian review

Southbank Centre Resident Orchestras London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra have launched their seasons with principal conductors Vladimir Jurowski and Esa-Pekka Salonen and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launch their season this evening with a concert featuring Robert Levin and Charles Hazelwood followed by their late-night series, The Night Shift at 10pm.

This weekend Southbank Centre celebrates the music of Pierre Boulez featuring Resident Orchestra London Sinfonietta, Royal Academy of Music, almost all of Boulez’s works performed by pianists Aimard and Stefanovich, culminating in the launch of Shell Classic International, bringing great orchestras from around the world to Royal Festival Hall on Sunday with Ensemble intercontemporain, soprano Barbara Hannigan and Boulez himself performing Pli selon pli.

Explore the programme and pick out your favourites with our online guide.

John Cage, composer, philosopher and artist

Composer, visual artist, writer, philosopher, humorist, mushroom expert: the depth and breadth of John Cage’s engagement with art and ideas was dizzying. “Cage was all about simultaneity and multiplicity, those were words that he lived by,” says Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust. In this context, she says, presenting a concert of music by Cage in tandem with an exhibition of his art, at the Hayward Gallery, is something to be celebrated. “It feels like a perfect thing to do: it makes the whole thing lively, especially if people don’t know Cage was a visual artist, which not so long ago, people didn’t. They were shocked to find out that there was this huge body of work.” Anton Lukoszevieze, whose ensemble is named after Cage’s piece Apartment House 1776, agrees. “Cage’s compositional and artistic approaches go hand in hand; it is clear that he was a major figure in both contemporary music and art.”John Cage

Yet Cage was never a polymath in the traditional sense. Music, or perhaps more accurately, sound, was where he began and it was with him every step of way of his creative life (legend has it he promised Arnold Schoenberg, his teacher, to dedicate his life to music). As an assistant to Cage in his later years and a champion of his work since his death, Kuhn is well-placed to untangle the web of Cage’s prolific inspiration. And he was extremely prolific. “We started our [the trust’s] archives with what was in Cage’s apartment when he died,” she says. “That included all his music manuscripts, just shy of 28,000 pieces of paper. We brought together a team of musicologists and they worked to place Cage’s material at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.”

Such groundwork was important in establishing a foundation for Cage’s legacy, which Kuhn has seen mature over the past 20 years. “When Cage died, the greatest confluence of interest was in the people who knew him – there was some speculation at the time that once that generation left us, interest in his work would subside” she says. “That’s gone away now because we have a new generation for whom Cage is something completely different.” As we move towards Cage’s centennial year in 2012, the most striking example of that change has to be the 2010 internet campaign, ‘Cage against the machine’, to make 4’33” the Christmas No.1 single ahead of that year’s television talent show winner: a gimmicky distortion of Cage’s original intentions perhaps, but a demonstration of the iconic status of the work that opens this evening’s concert.

It is appropriate then, that this programme is bookended by 4’33” and its successor 0’00”, but as Anton Lukoszevieze explains, the evening also covers “most of his major compositional career. That’s some 45 years, from the ethereal, acquiescent beauty of the String Quartet in four parts to the sonic complexity of Music for eight.” For Kuhn, as well as emphasising the variety of ideas and themes in Cage’s music, this programme shows Cage as the innovator he was. For example: “Cage’s work with technology was astonishing. Today, we take it for granted that people sample music, but Cage was doing that with radios almost 70 years ago. He was using variable-speed turntables – being his own DJ – in Seattle in the thirties. Radio Music is astonishing because it’s so easy to perform and yet it is startling in its simplicity.”

Indeed, simplicity is a word that applies to much of Cage’s creativity: it was the originality of his ideas, not their complexity or sophistication, that made him unique. Perhaps Schoenberg was right when he described Cage not as a composer but as an inventor, and one of genius.

Tim Woodall © 2011

John Cage Night performed by Apartment House is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday 13 September. Tickets from £9 – click here to book.

There is also a free guided tour of the exhibition for concert ticket holders at 6pm, and a free post-concert talk with Laura Kuhn and members of Apartment House.

The exhibition John Cage: Every Day is a Good Day is at the Hayward Gallery Project Space until Sunday 18 September. Open daily 10am – 6pm, admission free. Click here for details.

John Cage’s Indeterminacy with Steve Beresford, Tania Chen and Stewart Lee

Comedian Stewart Lee has curated a weekend of gigs and comedy as part of Festival of Britain. On Saturday night we host John Cage’s Indeterminacy performed by contemporary pianists Steve Beresford and Tania Chen alongside Stewart Lee reading Cage’s stories. Here’s a sneak peak:

See John Cage’s Indeterminacy at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 28 May as part of Stewart Lee’s Austerity Binge. Get tickets here.