Bang on a Can Festival: Music makes an art connection


NORTH ADAMS -- Although the 13th annual Bang on a Can Festival has been going full blast with daily faculty and fellow recitals resounding throughout the galleries since July 14, the festival gets down to an exciting new project that will carry it through its finale, Aug 7, with the annual Marathon.

"Bang on a Can Plays Art" is the new element, and it involves the music actually embracing the art within the gallery in which it is played.

"We’re trying to undertake something sort of implicit in the past," explained David Lang, one of the three festival founders. "We’re doing it in a museum for a very good reason. Now we’re going to highlight it and make specific connections between the music and the art.

"Some of the connections are no-brainers. We’re doing a concert of Steve Reich’s music in the Sol Lewitt gallery and have Steve tell of his friendship with Sol. It’s an incredible, powerful connection that draws these worlds together." (4:30 p.m. Thursday).

"Another exciting connection is with visual artist Ann Hamilton. She designed a very beautiful and spectacular bunch of clothes made out of paper. She showed them to me; I’m an old friend, and I put her in touch with Mark Stewart, head of our Orchestra of Original Instruments, and with David Cossin (percussionist) who performed Tan Dun’s "Paper Concerto," which he wrote for David, and which he went around performing with major orchestras of the world.

The project opens at 4:30 this afternoon with "Bang on a Can Plays Izhar Patkin," offering Terry Riley’s seminal "In C."

Patkin’s piece, "The Wandering Veil," divides the museum’s largest gallery into a maze of smaller spaces, much as does Riley’s "In C," the national anthem of minimal music. Musicians will be spread throughout, among and within Patkins’ massive installation.

Lang’s post-Schubertian song cycle "death speaks" will occupy this evening’s 8 o’clock spot, with alt-diva Shara Worden performing the piece.

"I went through all the Schubert songs where death is a character, made a libretto out of death," Lang said.

"I found 32 different songs where there is a message. I thought if I went through them all I would be able to figure out what death was to Schubert and his contemporaries.

"Death was such a presence in his work: Schubert was examining what was happening as he watched his own life slipping away."

Shara Worden will continue singing as her indie band My Brightest Diamond does an "after hours" performance at 10 p.m. in the Chalet, the Mass MoCA beer garden behind the museum.

Brad Lubman leads the festival string orchestra in festival co-founder Julia Wolfe’s "Cruel Sister" in the middle of Teresita Fernández’ monumental art work, "As Above, So Below." Wolfe’s intense and harrowing piece is based on a chilling folk song of two sisters tragically in love with the same man. (4:30 p.m., Sunday)

This year’s composers are from as far away as Athens, Greece, and Sydney Australia, and 10 works by the visiting composers will be performed at 4:30 Monday afternoon in a Hunter Center concert by all the festival’s fellows and most of its faculty.

Morton Feldman changed the meaning of the word "quiet" with his meditative and ethereal music. Feldman’s music, finely detailed and rigorously made, should fit comfortably at the entrance of Mark Dion’s encyclopedic" "Octagon Room" (4:30 p.m. Wednesday)

One performance not intended for the faint of heart is "Bang on a Can Plays Anselm Kiefer." Visitors will be asked to check out the beautiful, and to some, terrifying, Kiefer exhibition, then remain after the lights are extinguished. They will be treated to a performance of Georg Friederich Hass’ powerful "In iij. Noct" with musicians stationed among the sculptures and the auditors.

"The music is terrifying," warned Lang, "but the experience of not knowing where you are is more terrifying."

Wilco’s percussionist Glenn Kotche will be joined by a host of players for a percussion extravaganza below Natalie Jeremijenko’s "Tree Logic," the seeming upside-down piece that greets museum visitors. (4:30 p.m. next Friday)

The entire festival and its friends will gather at the annual avant-variety show and picnic at 7 p.m. on Wednesday on Windsor Lake. Picnics and lawn chairs and bathing suits are encouraged.

Reich and Kotche are the special guests at this year’s Marathon, beginning at 4, Aug. 2, and possibly continuing past the midnight bewitching hour. More than 50 musicians and composers chosen from throughout the world will perform back-to-back new music. Reich’s newest composition, "Radio Rewrite," a Reichian remix of two songs by the British rock band Radiohead is on the agenda, along with chamber music by Kotche, displaying wares of his new adventures in composition.

Pulitzer-prize-winner Caroline Shaw’s new String Quartet will be performed. "It is a very beautiful piece, and she is a future superstar," Lang predicted. "People will want to know her."

Lang will be represented by a movement from his percussion quartet, "The So-Called Laws of Nature," for teacup and tuned flowerpots -- "It’s a Home Depot kind of piece." he said.

Wolfe has a piece for five violins on which the violinists also sing, "a very fiddly, Appalachian kind of piece," as Lang described it.

Michael Gordon, the third festival founder, will offer the American premiere of a piece he wrote last year for the Ensemble Modern in Germany.

Lang said he and the other festival directors are always happy to return to Mass MoCA, and to the fellows attracted by the festival. "I feel this is one of the most noble things we do. Everything [the fellows] read is about how miserable things are, how bad business is.

"We feel we have to remind them that the world is good for musicians. If they want to actually put in a little energy they can build the world they want. I find it inspiring to be around them."


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