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The longest concert in history and we will never see the end of it
This extraordinary performance, which can legitimately be called epochal, revolves around an organ composition by John Cage, a visionary artist, composer and avant-garde theorist

The longest concert in history is in progress in the German town of Halberstadt: started on September 5, 2001, it will end (if everything goes as planned) on September 5, 2640. It will therefore have an incredible duration of 639 years.

And that's not the only peculiarity: there is no musician to perform it, and it continues, with or without an audience, 24 hours a day.

This extraordinary performance, which can legitimately be called epochal, revolves around a composition for organ by John Cage (Los Angeles 1912 - New York 1992), a visionary artist, composer and avant-garde theorist, one of the most relevant and significant personalities of the twentieth century. His works and his poetics are milestones of contemporary music, from aleatory music to the prepared piano, to the famous piece 4.33 in which the performer does not play ('tacet') for the entire duration of the piece.

In 1985 Cage wrote a piece for a piano competition, also composed with the aid of random procedures. It was titled ASLSP, with the meaning of As SLow as Possible (As slow as possible) but also with a reference ("as Lsp”) To the last chapter of James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake: Soft morning, city! Lsp!

At the suggestion of the German organist Gerd Zacher, who became the dedicatee, the piece was reworked by Cage in a version for organ (1987), Organ2 / ASLSP - As SLow as Possible. Zacher gave the first performance the same year in Metz, with a duration of 29 minutes. The piece consists of eight parts, each of which can be repeated. Nothing is fixed, except for the pitch and duration of the sounds.

A decade later, a group of composers, organists, musicologists, theologians and philosophers, some of whom had worked with Cage, met at a symposium (Trossingen, 1998). Among the debated topics, the piece by Cage and the question about how long a performance could last  'as slow as possible'  - since the organ is an aerophone, thus being able to keep the sound as long as it is fed by air, the duration is potentially infinite.

Hence the idea of a very particular performance, for which the group of promoters identified the place, the duration and a starting date:

The place was identified in Halberstadt, a provincial town of about 40,000 inhabitants in the Sachsen-Anhalt region. Here was built what is thought to have been the first modern keyboard organ, made in 1361 from Nicolaus Faber in the local cathedral, also testified by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) composer and music theorist among the greatest in the German area. The small Romanesque church of Sankt Burchardi, one of the oldest in the city, built around 1050 and on the slope in a state of decay, was identified as the perfect place to host the performance and was specially restored to host it.

To define the duration of the singular concert, it was decided to take as a basis 1361, the year of completion of the Faber organ, and as a temporal pivot and mirror axis the turning point of the millennium: calculating backwards, the organ had been completed 639 years before 2000, and then the performance, by a sort of temporal mirroring, came designed to last 639 years.

The project was symbolically started in 2000, on 05 September, Cage's birth anniversary, but the performance could only begin in  2001, on what would have been the composer's 89th birthday.

The organ that allows you to listen to Cage's music is itself a work in progress, an incomplete instrument that expands with the progress of the event: the bellows built on the model of the fourteenth-century organ of the ancient cathedral are gradually added the pipes necessary to produce the notes required by the score. To keep the sound, weights formed by sand bags are placed on the keys that allow the passage of the air blown into the pipes by the electric bellows.

Nineteen years ago, in 2001, the event began in a bizarre way, but perfectly in the spirit of Cage: with a pause lasting 17 months, after which the composition began its very slow development.

At each change of notes the relative organ pipes are positioned (or possibly removed) with a particular event, almost a ceremony, called 'Klangwechsel ', 'change of sonority', attended by hundreds of spectators often coming from far away.

What initially seemed like just a utopian and decidedly extravagant idea, quickly turned into a charismatic and innovative art project, known all over the world. The project John Cage Organ2 Halberstadt is supported exclusively by volunteers and private donors, through a specially formed foundation that curates a number of related events such as the prize John Cage Interpretation Award.

In pre-Covid era, the Halberstadt sound installation had around 10,000 visitors a year, and the agreement change ceremony scheduled for 2020 was not stopped even by the pandemic. With an event open to the public, in compliance with the rules of distance and safety, on 05 September the composer Julian Lembke and the soprano Johanna Vargas, both with white gloves, added two new pipes to the organ, for the G sharp and the E .

"We couldn't stop" said the president of the Foundation, Prof. Rainer Neugebauer, "The chord change is in the score". And so it happened.

But what would Cage have said about the Halberstadt performance? Experts, journalists and the public are animatedly discussing many details of the project. Is a concert without performers, with a fragmentary instrument, which will last over six centuries, an art project or just the gag of the century?

Cage, always unconventional, perhaps would have replied with a famous phrase of his  “This is a very good question. I wouldn't want to spoil it with an answer ”.

Find out more about the concert that none of us will see the conclusion of

The Project website: aslsp.org

See the ARTE.tv video: click here

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