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Bang On A Can Festival Is Making Some Noise Again This Summer in North Adams, MA

By Leonard Bopp, Contributing Writer, July 14, 2017

Thirty years after their debut concert—a day-long marathon concert of experimental music in a SoHo art gallery—the founders of Bang on a Can, the composer trifecta of Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, and David Lang, remain committed to their mission of creating and presenting innovative and experimental music. At the core of this project is the annual Bang on a Can Summer Festival, a professional development program for up-and-coming composers and performers held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, MA.

(l. to r.) David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolf; photo: Peter Serling.

The heart of the festival is the numerous public performances by faculty and fellows in the MASS MoCA facilities and throughout the community. This year’s programming promises to continue the tradition of presenting an eclectic, diverse, and innovative collection of new works.

Of the festival’s many highlights, perhaps the biggest draw is its signature event, the Bang on a Can Marathon, a six-hour concert showcasing the aesthetic range of the contemporary music world. This year’s line-up includes music by Gordon, Lang, and Wolfe, as well as works by Steve Reich, Jeffrey Brooks, Vanessa Lann, Mary Jane Leach, Judd Gerstein, Gyorgi Ligeti, and many others. This year’s marathon begins at 4pm on Saturday, August 5, in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA.

In addition to the marathon concert, the festival highlights many of today’s most important composers throughout the festival. Of particular interest is a special concert with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, this year’s guest composer at the festival. Andriessen, one of the giants of the contemporary music scene and, as it happens, a teacher to both Gordon and Wolfe, will be featured both in the marathon and in his own concert on Thursday, August 3, at 7:30pm.

Composer Louis Andriessen; courtesy of festival.

Beyond Andriessen, the festival will present other concerts focusing on the music of a single composer. On Wednesday, August 2, festival fellows perform the sextet version of one of Philip Glass’ masterpieces, his Symphony No. 3, alongside his seminal Music in Similar Motion. On Thursday, August 3, at 4:30pm the festival presents a concert of music by George Lewis, a pioneer of electronic and interactive music. Lastly, on Friday, August 4, the festival presents a concert of music by the maverick experimental composer and vocal artist Meredith Monk.

Meredith Monk; courtesy of festival.

Despite this already stunning line-up, the highlight of the festival promises to be the premiere of Road Trip, an evening-length piece conceived and written by Wolfe, Gordon, and Lang, for the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Featuring rock show lighting and projections designed by CandyStations, the composers say the piece is about “complicated journeys and the people who make them — physical journeys, geographical journeys, emotional journeys, spiritual journeys.” These composers have long had a knack for capturing fragments of human reality through their compositions, notably evidenced by Wolfe’s recent Pulitzer Prize-winning Anthracite Fields, a work about Pennsylvania coal-mining life at the turn of the twentieth century. Combined with the electric energy of a rock show, this concert is sure to be a landmark event at this year’s festival. The work will be premiered on Saturday, July 29 at 8pm in the Hunter Center.

Pauline Oliveros; courtesy of festival.

Further events of the festival include a tribute to the late Pauline Oliveros, the champion of meditative “deep-listening” practices, on Saturday, July 29 at 4:30; a concert of music from Central Asia on Tuesday, August 1; an avant-garde marathon at Windsor Lake on Wednesday, August 2; and two concerts on the musical instruments of Gunnar Schonbeck, a collection of handmade instruments drawn from a range of ordinary materials on display at MASS MoCA, on Wednesday, July 19 and Sunday, July 30. And, of course, showcasing the music of tomorrow, the annual composers’ concert on Monday, July 31 will present the music of the festival’s composition fellows.

A gallery recital at Bang on a Can; courtesy of festival.

Daily recitals throughout the galleries by festival faculty and fellows, a children’s concert, and a late-night Latin Big Band concert rounds out the programming. While you’re in town, be sure to check out the museum itself, whose recently-opened Building 6 and installations of works by Sol Lewitt and James Turrell make it one of the most important centers of contemporary art in the country. A full schedule of festival programming, as well as ticket information, is available on the MASS MoCA website; to access click here.

Exterior of MASS MoCA; courtesy of festival.

For more information on Bang on a Can click here.

Bang on a Can recital; courtesy of the festival.


Cover: Musician at Bang on a Can Marathon; courtesy of festival.


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