As Bang on a Can Returns, a New Generation Rises
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – Venturing out to live performances again and finding an unhealthy classical music institution can be like putting on old jeans and discovering, with relief, an easy fit.
This is how I felt attending the Bang on a Can’s LOUD Weekend festival, which was held throughout the Mass MoCA complex here on Friday and Saturday, a return to form for the new music collective after 15 months. streaming concert hosting.
With over 20 hours of performance, you could see one familiar look after another – all hallmarks of the legendary and free Bang on Can Marathons in New York City. But here, in a two-day paid environment, there was more time for each musician’s set to adopt an individual character. And while a few performers coped with the nervousness of the first day, most appearances went with a crisp, provocative polish – as if they hadn’t spent time away from the audience.
This was especially true for pianist Lisa Moore’s show on Friday, which featured pieces by Philip Glass, Don Byron, Martin Bresnick – and a world premiere by Frederic Rzewski, who died in June. The set was the confirmation of the interpretive ideas she brought to the works of these composers on her recordings. And Rzewski’s premiere – “Amoramaro,” subtitled “Love Has No Laws” – was bittersweet: a turn-by-turn seductive and tangy reminder of all his music that can no longer be written.
“Amoramaro”, commissioned for Moore by her husband, is nevertheless something to cherish (and, surely, to record). His sometimes lush chords – half recalled and half transformed from the American songbook – mingle with austere, flinty tracks that make trapezoidal connections between distant registers. And his climactic and striking bands could have been inspired by Rzewski’s experience playing Stockhausen’s “Klavierstücke”. The fact that it all stuck together, for 15 minutes, was proof of both Rzewski’s peculiar and personal palette, and Moore’s keen sense of it.
Elsewhere, the festival has pronounced names in bold: it is telling that this weekend, audience members wondered, “Which Kronos Quartet concert was the best?” For me it was Friday night, a dark yet intense set that started with Jlin’s “Little Black Book” and ended with Jacob Garchik’s “Storyteller”. This performance was more consistent than the one that followed Saturday, well played but more diffuse, including the premiere of “This Assortment of Atoms — One Time Only!” By Terry Riley. – an attractive but modest addition to the composer’s substantial body of work for Kronos.
As in previous Bang on a Can marathons, contemporary and modernist trends from around the world were present and taken into account during LOUD Weekend. These included French spectralism (in the music of Gérard Grisey); Minimalism (Riley, Glass and their descendants); and collective improvisation (from Banda de los Muertos, a jazz ensemble inspired by the music of Sinaloa in Mexico).
And there were solo acts throughout. Violinist, improviser and composer Mazz Swift took Saturday night to a summit with a presentation of her “Project Sankofa,” which she described as “re-imaginations of so-called slave songs, as well as songs by freedom and my own versions. of what I call modern day protest songs. When Swift used subtle electronic processing to boost a few chest vocal notes – or when she looped a ridged violin passage to create a hazy cloud that supported the spitfire solo lines – her range of effects grew. proven to be as multifaceted as it is powerful.
In addition to the star-studded headliners, there were also students from the Bang an a Can Summer Institute, who had moments to shine. A few seemed ready to put together their own ensembles, and possibly return for future festivals. Saxophonist Julian Velasco, for example, excelled as a member of a mixed professional and student ensemble in Julius Eastman’s “Femenine” on Friday, and as a member of a duo playing Shelley’s “BIG Talk”. Washington on Saturday.
Ken Thomson, the seasoned pro of a Velasco partner in Washington, was a virtually omnipresent force during the two days, including as a member of the organization’s house group, the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
Thomson and his fellow All-Stars lived up to their nickname most forcefully on Friday, with a heart-wrenching version of “Workers Union” – a classic influenced by the minimalism of Louis Andriessen, who died in July. And while the group’s cornerstone, set on Saturday night – which also served as the festival finale – was played with vigor and energy, its schedule was mixed.
The concert featured a new arrangement of Terry Riley’s “Autodreamographical Tales” (soon to be released on an All-Stars recording), a work that seems destined to be a curiosity in the legendary composer’s production. Or a curiosity in addition to a curiosity, since this version has its roots in an obscure play that Riley recorded in the 1990s.
Her text comes from a dream journal that Riley kept for a while. There are moments of low-key humor, and the “Tales” musical ego skewer in a winning way; we get a sense of how often Riley’s dreams involve other musicians complimenting his work. But the room is also rambling and isn’t always as smart as the subconscious might have hoped – as dreams told tend to be.
“Tales” offers some misguided pleasures nonetheless, especially whenever Riley imagines a blues or vamp rock act – happily arranged here by her son, Gyan Riley. Guitarist Mark Stewart has taken on vocal duties, as Riley has been in Japan since the start of the pandemic. (He made a cameo appearance as a light, live video intro.)
In the final hours of Saturday’s lineup, listeners could sprint from a short set by rising star Nathalie Joachim (singing and playing the flute to clips from her famous album “Fanm d’Ayiti”), until at a Pandemic Solos concert, commissioned by Bang on a Can pendant for his virtual marathons during the pandemic.
I couldn’t bear to listen to these live marathons right now. I tried, but the muddled audio – inevitable when artists were streaming from so many places – recorded as micro-tragedies that distracted attention from the works themselves. I thought to myself that I would hear from some in the future; and I did it on Saturday.
A series of works for All-Stars bassist Robert Black opened the day, including the spectral and spooky “Pending” by Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir. And after Joachim’s set, I heard a trio of hot and distinct pieces from Aeryn Santillan, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Anna Clyne, all written for Thomson.
It’s a stealth force from Bang on a Can. It attracts the public with big names. But if the Legends disappoint in any given hour, as Riley did, there’s always the next set – and the next generation – to save the day.
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