a school performance of 4’ 33". We all sat completely silent. No-one coughed, no-one shuffled. At the end of the 4 minutes and 33 seconds the pianist turned and berated us for giving such a poor rendition of the Cage’s work. He explained that the point of the work is to attend to the sounds produced by a restless and impatient audience and that, by sitting so quietly, we had sabotaged the performance. What he didn’t know was that a week earlier, rowdy behaviour by boys during a lecture had been savagely punished by the headmaster - several boys were caned - as a result, none of us had dared to make a sound for fear of further beating
Of course, the 'point' of this piece is to hear the ambient sound. If the ambient sound is terrified silence, that is just as valid as any other performance. Here is a story from the BBC site linked above.
I've seen this performed live by a full orchestra and it worked really well live, particularly because the orchestra really got into the swing of things and hammed it up big time. 4'33" is essentially a joke, and should be enjoyed as such, but it is interesting to sit in a concert hall watching an orchestra not play anything. In our case the conductor (a flamboyant type) stood with his baton as though he was about to start cueing instruments at any moment, and the various musicians were all poised to play whenever required. The whole thing was far less silent than you might expect - aside from ambient noise and people coughing and so on, there was the rustle of the orchestra turning over pages and so on. Some bozo in the audience shouted out: "This is stupid