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Top Five Special Anniversaries of 2012

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Adios, Liszt and Mahler. With the New Year comes a new group of top composers (and one piece) that will be marking major milestones this year:

1. Claude Debussy

Debussy is the largest figure looming on this year’s list of big birthdays. The French composer would have turned 150 on August 22. Though works like Le Mer and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faun are repertory staples, almost every orchestra has either unveiled a concert or has one in the works to honor a founder of Impressionistic music. Along with his greatest hits, look for some of his lesser-known masterpieces like his works for two pianos and four hands, presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

2. John Cage

John Cage devotees around the world will be able to “hear” the composer’s silent scores, admire his paintings and read new studies about one of the 20th century’s iconic artists over the year. A number of events, such as Juilliard’s FOCUS! Festival to “Sounds Re-imagined: John Cage at 100,” have already been scheduled for the big birthday, as Allan Kozinn writes in The New York Times. Many of the concerts, readings and exhibitions are listed on the John Cage Trust Web site.

3. Conlon Nancarrow

Though he primarily wrote works for machines rather than musicians, Conlon Nancarrow and his approximately 50 studies for player piano will be spotlighted for the composer’s centennial. Nancarrow, who died in 1997, lived most of his life in Mexico, hand-punching holes to created multi-tempo pieces that were too complex for people to play (though some such as Bang on a Can’s Evan Ziporyn have arranged his works for several instruments). Composer and Nancarrow biographer Kyle Gann will host an online symposium in the fall.

4. Philip Glass

American minimalist Philip Glass gets the unique pleasure (on this list at least) to celebrate a milestone birthday in the flesh, as he turns 75. The American Composers Orchestra has planned a party at Carnegie Hall, and the Park Avenue Armory has dedicated its second annual Tune-in Music Festival to him. A quick peak at his upcoming calendar of events shows his schedule in this anniversary year is anything but minimal. 

5. Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire

Rather than devote the final spot on our list to a person, we’re acknowledging a monumental piece that debuted on Oct. 16, 1912: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Schoenberg announced his embrace of dissonance—and invented the technique of Sprechstimme—with this work for a single speaker and five musicians. Among the dozens of performances happening over the year, highlights include eighth blackbird’s 2009 Pierrot, which pairs the music to a theatrical dance performance. Meanwhile, Pierre Boulez will be conducting and talking about Schoenberg’s music as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Beyond the Score series, featuring pianist Pierre Laurent Aimard.

Weigh in: What anniversary are you looking forward to in 2012? Please leave your comments below.