On 50th Anniversary, Calder Piece Presented in New York City
In 1963, the composer Earle Brown approached Calder with an idea: Brown would orchestrate a piece of music for a percussion quartet that would be literally conducted by a mobile, for a performance commissioned by Diego Masson, director of the Théâtre de l’Atelier in Paris, and the son of Calder’s lifelong friend, the artist André Masson. Calder’s interest was piqued, and three years later he delivered his maestro, Chef d'orchestra (1966), to Brown.
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark premiere of Earle Brown’s Calder Piece (1963–66), and on a brisk evening in January, the Calder Foundation was privileged to present it once again, at the Friends Seminary in New York. Curated by Calder’s great-grandson Gryphon Rue, and performed by the renowned Talujon Percussion Quartet, Chef d’orchestre once again took center stage, thanks to the generous loan of the sculpture by its owners, a private collection. As the mobile’s red, gong-like elements hovered in space, supported by the delicate spindle of its base, the percussionists took their places and played. Intermittently, they abandoned their drums, cymbals, and xylophones to take their mallets to the mobile, working it collectively as another instrument. Tension and excitement in the room was palpable as the musicians struck the mobile, whose sound boomeranged from airy gossamer to resounding boom, depending on how and where it was impacted.
This unprecedented performance is now available to watch below. With a thoughtful introduction by Rue, who provides an historical grounding, along with commentary from Thomas Fichter, director of the Earle Brown Music Foundation, the film includes the complete and uninterrupted, 23-minute performance of Calder Piece.