Bang on a Can is a multifaceted organization that’s confines include not only “All Stars” ( a performance ensemble who perform new and contemporary music in multitudes of settings all over the world) but also of the People’s Commissioning Fund, The Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, the Asphalt Orchestra and perhaps most famously, the twelve hour summer marathon they throw every year that incorporates progressive and trail blazing musical artists who make work in all forms of musical styles. In other words, Bang on a Can is one of the most obvious choices that the Ecstatic Music Festival could dedicate an evening of their concerts to, but is also probably the most essential. Bang on a Can’s ideas about the fusion of/importance of progressive, contemporary music are very similar to those of the festival and I doubt that Argeo Ascani, the festival’s coordinator, would have had as much support for the festival, nor would it have possibly been conceived at all without the groundwork that Bang on a Can has laid out in this sort of hybrid music field over the past two decades.
In 1987 composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe founded Bang on a Can and dedicated it “to commissioning, performing, creating, presenting and recording contemporary music. With an ear for the new, the unknown and the unconventional…”. Twenty some years later, they are still kicking and strongly and are one of the most praised and recognized contributers and enablers of contemporary music today. Their 12 hour long, summer marathons of new music are near legendary now, and although I have yet to attend one, it is something that the other nights performance by the “All Stars” and the EMF have both made clear that I must.
“The Bang on a Can All Stars” are a chamber music group that straddle the line between classical and rock ensemble. Made up of piano, cello, bass, electric guitar, clarinet (doubling on various saxophones) and percussion of all traditions, shapes and sizes, their sound is diverse, ever shifting and often startlingly diverse. Often times as they play you can’t tell where which sound is coming from, whether it’s acoustic or electric, percussion or string instrument etc. The unusual line up creates all sorts of wonderful possibilities and the group continually premiers new work that is specifically commissioned for them as well as accompanying orchestras, and musical artists of incredible variety.
Getting to see the group perform in full for the first time after hearing about them for years not only justified their acclaim, but even went beyond that to inspire a search through their back catalogue. Getting this written at all proved more and more difficult as I fell into a black hole of youtube videos and reviews of past performances.
Thursday night’s performance with them incorporated the premiers of three new works commissioned by The People’s Commissioning fund; Nick Brooke‘s Menace (Sousa Medley), Karsh Kale‘s Crawl Walk Fly Run and Bryce Dessner‘s O Shut your eyes against the wind
There were other pieces from the ensembles repertoire that were played amongst the premiers (Steve Martland‘s Horses of Instruction was a really brilliant highlight of the evening) but for the purposes of this write up I’ll just talk briefly about the new works.