Exhibition pays tribute to David Tudor's transformation from interpreter to composer-performer

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Exhibition pays tribute to David Tudor's transformation from interpreter to composer-performer
David Tudor & Composers Inside Electronics, Rainforest V (Variation 2), 1973/2015, sound–object installation, collection of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg―acquired with funds from the Generali Foundation, © Museum der Moderne Salzburg, photo: Rainer Iglar.

SALZBURG.- David Tudor (1926–1996) was one of the leading pianists and interpreters of contemporary music in Europe and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. His ability to respond to the indeterminacy of challenging scores by composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Christian Wolff and to masterfully execute their vague instructions as complex compositions was legendary and is the reason why he continues to be perceived first and foremost as a pianist and interpreter.

The exhibition Teasing Chaos. David Tudor at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg is the first to pay tribute to David Tudor’s transformation from interpreter to composer-performer, his groundbreaking achievements in the field of live electronics, and his interdisciplinary projects between 1961 and 1996. Decisively expanding the narrative of Tudor as interpreter and pianist, the presentation and the accompanying publication fill a longstanding gap in the perception of this remarkable artist. They also extend the series of acclaimed exhibitions and publications of the past ten years in which the Museum der Moderne Salzburg has turned the spotlight on American artists and organizations of the postwar era working on the interfaces between visual art, music, performance, and technology.

Tudor rose to international renown in 1950 with his interpretation of Pierre Boulez’s Piano Sonata No. 2. The American premiere of the work, which was widely regarded as virtually unplayable—Tudor spent around a year preparing for the performance—established him as a sought-after interpreter of the period’s most celebrated composers of experimental music.

Only initiates know why Tudor gradually abandoned his stellar career as an interpreter after the early 1960s. His approach to music underwent an incremental shift: a theorist and performing musician by training, he reinvented himself as a composer-performer and live electronics artist, while also striking up a series of interdisciplinary collaborative relationships with artists working in other fields. Until his death in 1996, he realized works that straddle the lines between composition, performance, object art, and installation.

When Tudor’s name is mentioned today, it is typically in connection with John Cage; he became famous as Cage’s ideal interpreter. Tudor was a very private person, and so we mostly rely on the testimony of more outspoken contemporaries—including Cage himself—who extolled his work and influence, but also noted his enigmatic and withdrawn character. He comes up with conspicuous frequency in exhibitions and publications dedicated to key individuals and events in the history of the American postwar avant-garde, in which he evidently played a pivotal role. In today’s perspective, that makes Tudor an omnipresent and manifestly important yet also mysterious figure, always appearing on the margins of the action.

The exhibition and publication were made possible by the unstinting assistance of individuals who share David Tudor’s community-minded and interdisciplinary ideas. Chief among them are John Driscoll and Phil Edelstein of the collective Composers Inside Electronics, which was founded by Tudor in 1973 and keeps his legacy alive.

Curator: Christina Penetsdorfer

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