Bang on a Can Festival Brings New Music to MASS MoCA

Concerts feature music by Julia Wolfe, Aphex Twin, David Lang, Michael Gordon

Bang on a Can co-founders David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe (photo Peter Serling)

Bang on a Can co-founders David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe (photo Peter Serling)

(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – The 12th Annual Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA, a utopian residency program dedicated entirely to the creation, study, and performance of the most adventurous music of our time, takes place now through Saturday, August 3, 2013. Featured concerts include the Bang on a Can All-Stars and special guests performing Julia Wolfe’s mesmerizing, evening-length art ballad Steel Hammer on Saturday, July 27, at 8pm; the Composer Premiere Concert on Monday, July 29 at 4:30pm, showcasing brand new works written by the Summer Festival composition fellows; and the 12th annual Bang on a Can Summer Marathon, featuring more than fifty musicians and composers in six hours of non-stop, boundary smashing music, including compositions by Aphex Twin, David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe, closing the festival on Saturday, August 3, from 4 to 10pm.

Bang on a Can’s summer residency at MASS MoCA — unofficially known as Banglewood — is a three-week intensive of public performances, recitals, and lectures. The festival will be attended by over 50 cutting-edge composers and performers from around the globe, including 37 fellows selected from a pool of over 250 applicants from 17 countries.

Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer is inspired by her love for the legends and music of Appalachia, and culls from both the music and oral traditions of the region. The text is taken from over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad – based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales – and explores the subject of human vs. machine in this quintessential American legend. Steel Hammer was runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and stretches the standard instrumentation of Bang on a Can All-Stars with wooden bones, mountain dulcimer, banjo, and more, to evoke the rich instrumental colors of Appalachia. The New York Times calls it a “wild hybrid” and an obsessive study of the song’s many versions.”

The Composer Premiere Concert features ten world premieres by a terrific range of up-and-coming composers including Adam Cuthbert, Erik Ian DeLuca, Alex Dowling, Stephen Feigenbaum, Ben Hjertmann, Finola Merivale, Emma O’Halloran, Brendon Randall-Myers, Max Stoffregen, and Liza Jane White. All are writing brand new music commissioned especially for the Summer Festival ensembles, to be rehearsed and then premiered at MASS MoCA on July 29.

Bang on a Can All-Stars (photo Stephanie Berger)

Bang on a Can All-Stars (photo Stephanie Berger)

Bang on a Can’s Marathon at MASS MoCA has become one of the most diverse, open, and exciting summer music events in the Berkshires. “Imagine Lollapalooza advised by the ghost of John Cage,” Vanity Fair wrote. “There are other places to hear new contemporary music, but it is seldom offered with such a potent blend of intensity, authority, and abandon.” Some of the many highlights of the 2013 Bang on a Can Marathon at MASS MoCA include music by techno master Aphex Twin performed by a 20-member amplified chamber orchestra of festival musicians with guest conductor Alan Pierson of Alarm Will Sound; David Lang’s These Broken Wings recently featured on the 2013 Grammy Awards; Julia Wolfe’s muscular string quartet Fuel, British renegade composer Steve Martland’s classic Horses of Instruction; Michael Gordon’s The Sad Park for string quartet, Bang on a Can’s Orchestra of Original Instruments, and much more.

Since its founding in 2002, 358 musicians have attended the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, coming from over 50 countries including places as far away as Malaysia, Argentina, and Uzbekistan. Many alumni of the Festival have founded new ensembles, new festivals, new record labels, and new bands, emerging as the next leaders in the field. Bang on a Can Festival alumni include Judd Greenstein, founder of the NOW Ensemble, New Amsterdam Records, and Ecstatic Music Festival; Lauren Radnofsky, founder of Ensemble Signal; Dave Longstreth, founder of the band Dirty Projectors; Missy Mazzoli, composer and founder of the band Victoire; Anna Clyne, currently composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; David T. Little, founder of Newspeak; Jakhongir Shukurov, composer and producer of the Omnibus Festival in Uzbekistan; Olivia De Prato and Mariel Roberts, founders of MIVOS Quartet; and Matt McBane, founder of the Carlsbad Music Festival in California.

The 2013 Festival faculty members are drawn from among the most innovative musicians or our time and include Gregg August (bass), Ashley Bathgate (cello), Vicky Chow (piano), David Cossin (percussion), Michael Gordon (composition), David Lang (composition), Nicholas Photinos (cello), Vicki Ray (piano), Todd Reynolds (violin), Ken Thomson (saxophone/clarinet), Mark Stewart (guitar/ Orchestra of Original Instruments), Julia Wolfe (composition), and others.

Throughout the Festival, daily 1:30pm recitals offer an opportunity for the performance and composition fellows to interact with the artwork in the galleries, often playing new works created especially for the museum. Daily 4:30pm recitals feature performances by the Bang on a Can faculty and Festival ensembles; 4:30pm program highlights include virtuoso composer-violinist Todd Reynolds (July 22); “Turning Japanese: The Bang on a Can All-Stars performing commissioned works by Somei Satoh, Mamoru Fujieda, and Akiko Ushijima (July 23); music of Michael Gordon (July 25); Music of David Lang (July 26); the Summer Festival Doublebass Quartet (July 30); and more.

Bang on a Can takes over North Adams’ Downstreet Arts on Main Street with interactive mobile music on Thursday, July 25, at 7pm. The annual Community Concert at Windsor Lake, another city-sponsored event that draws a music-loving crowd to the only lake within North Adams city boundaries, will feature performances of fellows and faculty playing side-by-side, and will take place on Wednesday, July 31 at 7pm.

Tickets to the evening concert on July 27 and the Marathon on August 3 are $24 each. Daily recitals at MASS MoCA, the Composer Premiere Concert, Downstreet Arts on Main Street, and the annual Community Concert at Windsor Lake are free. MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount on tickets to any evening event. Tickets are available at the MASS MoCA Box Office 10am-6pm daily, by phone at 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours, or online at MASS MoCA.

Bang on a Can is dedicated to making music new. Since its first Marathon concert in 1987, Bang on a Can has been creating an international community dedicated to innovative music, wherever it is found. With adventurous programs, it commissions new composers, performs, presents, and records new work, develops new audiences, and educates the musicians of the future. Bang on a Can is building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Bang on a Can plays “a central role in fostering a new kind of audience that doesn’t concern itself with boundaries. If music is made with originality and integrity, these listeners will come.” (The New York Times)

Bang on a Can celebrated 25 years during the 2011-2012 season, having grown from a one-day New York-based Marathon concert (on Mother’s Day in 1987 in a SoHo art gallery) to a multi-faceted performing arts organization with a broad range of year-round international activities.  “When we started Bang on a Can in 1987, in an art gallery in SoHo, we never imagined that our one-day, 12-hour marathon festival of mostly unknown music would morph into a giant international organization dedicated to the support of experimental music, wherever we would find it,” write Bang on a Can Co-Founders Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe. “But it has, and we are so gratified to be still hard at work, all these years later. The reason is really clear to us – we started this organization because we believed that making new music is a utopian act—that people needed to hear this music and they needed to hear it presented in the most persuasive way, with the best players, with the best programs, for the best listeners, in the best context. Our commitment to changing the environment for this music has kept us busy and growing for the last 25 years, and we are not done yet.”

Current projects include the annual Bang on a Can Marathon; The People’s Commissioning Fund, a membership program to commission emerging composers; the Bang on a Can All-Stars, who tour to major festivals and concert venues around the world every year; recording projects; the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival – a professional development program for young composers and performers led by today’s pioneers of experimental music; Asphalt Orchestra, Bang on a Can’s extreme street band that offers mobile performances re-contextualizing unusual music; Found Sound Nation, a new technology-based musical outreach program now partnering with the State Department of the United States of America to create OneBeat, a revolutionary, post-political residency program that uses music to bridge the gulf between young American musicians and young musicians from developing countries; cross-disciplinary collaborations and projects with DJs, visual artists, choreographers, filmmakers and more.  Each new program has evolved to answer specific challenges faced by today’s musicians, composers and audiences, in order to make innovative music widely accessible and wildly received. Bang on a Can’s inventive and aggressive approach to programming and presentation has created a large and vibrant international audience made up of people of all ages who are rediscovering the value of contemporary music.

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