Reflecting every aspect of John Cage's hugely diverse output in a single centenary concert may be impossible, but the evening that Ilan Volkov had devised for the Proms celebration came pretty close. Lasting over three and a half hours, and involving the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the choral group Exaudi and 27 solo performers, many with impeccable Cageian credentials, it included 10 of Cage's works, drawn from all but the very earliest phase of his creative life.
There was a handful of classics from the 1950s and 60s. The delicate, elusive Concerto for Prepared Piano, had John Tilbury as the perfectly restrained soloist, while the orchestral Atlas Eclipticalis was played by Volkov and the BBCSSO together with Winter Music, realised by four pianists arrayed around the RAH arena. It was preceded by Cartridge Music, created by amplifying the sounds of objects inserted into record-player cartridges. But if it has been the ideas in Cage's music that have had the most profound influence on subsequent composers, then many of the pieces that Volkov programmed showed their intrinsic beauty, too – whether in the 1988 101 for unconducted large orchestra, a glacially slow procession of massive chords, or the tiny modal EE Cummings setting Experiences II from 1948, which was sung with cool poise by Joan La Barbara.
Perhaps it was all a bit po-faced – Cage's sense of humour and playfulness never came through – and perhaps it was too long. Omitting the two works not by Cage, especially the Improvisation by four old Cage hands, which seemed incongruous in a concert celebrating a composer who profoundly mistrusted improvisation, would have made a difference. And the amplified rustles and rattles of But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper? seemed just a bit too similar to those of Branches, in which all the sounds come from plant materials, such as cactuses, seed pods and dried grass. Altogether, though, it was a very worthy tribute.
• Available via iPlayer until 24 August. If you're at any Prom this summer, tweet your thoughts about it to @guardianmusic using the hashtag #proms and we'll pull what you've got to say into one of our weekly roundups – or leave your comments below.
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