Bang on a Can All-Stars
Bang on a Can All-Stars
The Bang on a Can All-Stars defy categorization. In fact, their eclectic musical repertoire can place them in almost any musical category. Classically trained, their music draws on their diverse ethnic backgrounds of their members, and they have not been hesitant to combine instruments and styles from different fields. Their music has been called noisy, cutting-edge, post-minimalist, evolutionary, and contemporary, and they regularly draw sold-out crowds throughout the world.
In 1987 Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, all recent graduates of Yale University, held a meeting to plan a new music festival. They wanted to bring together various forms of music that might not otherwise be played at the same event. "We tried to break open those divisions in the new music world. We were doing very unusual programming, especially for that time, putting pieces that wouldn't normally be together in the same concert hall or the same city almost—or at least the same part of town," Wolfe told the Los Angeles Times. The three discussed possibilities informally, and Wolfe began to describe the project as "a bunch of composers sit around and bang on a can," according Josef Woodard of the Los Angeles Times. Lang leapt at the description, saying, "That's it. That's the name of the new festival." The original festival was held in the East Village section of New York City, and the event was far more successful than the three had anticipated, drawing more than 400 people. "That was unheard of [then]," Gordon told Woodard. "We went to new music concerts all the time, and there would be 50 or 100 people."
Their success boosted the Bang on a Can Festival into an annual event. The music played at the festivals came from many different genres. Lang told Woodard, "The idea was that, if you found a piece that was really great, that was really revolutionary and really had a spark, and put it next to any other piece that had spark, it would fit. It didn't matter if the ideologies clashed."
In 1989 the founding members created an ensemble using the festival regulars, who became the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The group included Robert Black on bass, Steven Schick, and later David Cossin, on percussion; Lisa Moore on piano and keyboards, Mark Stewart on electric guitar, Maya Beiser, and later Wendy Sutter, on cello, and Evan Ziporyn on clarinet and bass clarinet. The Bang on a Can All-Stars media packet information described the group as "part classical ensemble, part rock band, part jazz band."
The All-Star appearances rapidly grew from being a regular feature at the Bang on a Can Festival to touring worldwide at concert halls and festivals. In 1992 the group developed a separate series of performances and began to establish their own reputation separate from that of the festival. In 1994 the group appeared at New York City's Lincoln Center as part of the Great Performers Series, which eventually became an annual affair. The series featured contemporary new music with a non-traditional twist. In 1998 the group's innovative rendition of Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" played to a sold-out crowd. They collaborated with New York legend Meredith Monk in 1999. An "East/West" presentation in 2002 featured jazz giant Don Byron as well as Kyaw Kyaw Naing, the Burmese master of the pat waing, a traditional instrument made of 21 separately tuned drums.
The Bang on a Can All-Stars have toured extensively throughout the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Walker Arts Center, University of California at Los Angeles, Richmond Museum of Fine Art, and Duke University. They have also toured extensively abroad, including appearances as part of the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall, at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, and at festivals in Vienna, Turin, Warsaw, Paris, Prague, Istanbul, Rome, Oslo, and Berlin. "What makes this music attractive is that it is a stew of things that are really interesting. It grooves an enormous amount. It bends preconceptions," stated Steve Schick of the Honolulu Weekly.
Gordon, Lang, and Wolfe made it their job to bring together different forms of music. In the American Record Guide the trio stated, "We had the simplicity, energy, and drive of pop in our ears. We'd heard it from the cradle. But we also had the idea from our classical music training that composing was exalted and pieces could be ordered and structured, that there still was a value to writing music down."
In 1995 the group released Industry on the Sony Classical label. In April of 1996, Cheating, Lying, Stealing was also released on Sony Classical. Bang on a Can remained dedicated to presenting music that was current, and they became active as commissioners of new work. In 1997 they developed an educational program with a residency for young performers. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times called the People's Commissioning Fund "a grass-roots program that invites individuals to become 'member-commissioners' with contributions ranging from $5 to $5,000. Since 1999, more than 400 supporters have made possible the commissioning of 14 works by American composers, most of whom, true to the ensemble mission, write music that bridges contemporary, classical and popular styles."
For the Record . . .
Members include Robert Black , bass; David Cossin , percussion; Lisa Moore , piano and keyboards; Mark Stewart , electric guitar; Wendy Sutter , cello; Evan Ziporyn , clarinet, bass clarinet.
Founded by Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, also founders of Bang on a Can Festival; group formed from regular performers at the annual festival in 1989; toured on their own, 1992; joined Lincoln Center's Great Performance Series, 1994; released Industry, 1995; released Cheating, Lying, Stealing, 1996; developed the People's Commissioning Fund, 1997; released Renegade Heaven, 2001; released Terry Riley in C, 2001.
Addresses: Website—Bang on a Can All-Stars Official Website: http://www.bangonacan.org/.
One project that attracted attention was the group's reconstruction of Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" in 1998. Initially the piece was developed by Eno using synthesizers and relooping pieces. The All-Stars revamped the piece using music and vocal sounds. "Bang on a Can has gone back to this seminal work, transcribed Eno's tape-loop and synthesizer compositions, and transposed them for a chamber group of mallet percussion, strings, piano, horns, reeds, guitar, and voices," described Billboard.
Later in 1998 the group gained more attention while playing a piece by Dan Plonsey at the Yerba Buena Center. They performed "The Plonsey Episodes 1-9 (everybody does this) The Nostalgia of the Infinite." It was an unusual title for an unusual piece of music. "Plonsey's piece, one of more than 40 pieces commissioned by BOAC, is something else. The sonorities are downright weird, thanks partially to the daxophone, a wired-up wood block Stewart played by running a violin bow across its surface," stated the San Francisco Examiner. "There's a kind of zany integrity at play here. The instruments play in extreme registers; at one point, everything seems to be scratched or rubbed. The percussionist crumples a paper bag. …This is not music to be parsed but to be enjoyed for its rudeness."
In March of 2001 the group began their own record label, Cantaloupe Music, with the release of Renegade Heaven. That same year, they released Terry Riley in C. The year 2002 brought the release of Bang on a Can Classics, which included reissues from Cheating, Lying, Stealing and Industry, which by then were out of print.
In 2002 the Bang on a Can All-Stars performed a creation by Chinese composer Tan Dun, titled "Concerto for Six," at New York City's Alice Tully Hall. "The piece delighted in sheer sound, coming from unexpected sources: the shouts of the ensemble players, counting backward in Chinese; the pianist (Lisa Moore) strumming the piano strings; Robert Black playing his bass like a percussion instrument, striking its back with his hand," wrote Anne Midgette in the New York Times.
In 2004 the group released Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing. While there have been struggles to compartmentalize this group, no one can call it average. They are breaking through boundaries that no one even knew existed and drawing full-house crowds. According to Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times, the group "has come to represent an exuberant embracing of possibilities."
Industry, Sony Classical, 1995.
Cheating, Lying, Stealing, Sony Classical, 1996.
Music for Airports, Phillips, 1998.
Terry Riley in C, Cantaloupe Music, 2001.
Renegade Heaven, Cantaloupe Music, 2001.
Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Cantaloupe Music, 2004.
American Record Guide, September/October 1995.
Billboard, May 7, 1998.
Honolulu Weekly, September 2000.
Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1998; October 21, 1998.
New York Times, February 12, 2002; May 8, 2002.
San Francisco Examiner, October 23, 1998
Bang on a Can Official Website, http://www.bangonacan.org (October 12, 2004).
Additional information was provided by the Bang on a Can media packet.
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