Bang on a Can Marathon hits hard

From New York they came to Rotterdam: The Bang on a Can All-Stars. They teamed up with their Dutch counterpart Ensemble Klang and students of the Rotterdam Codarts Conservatory. Together with them De Doelen Concert Hall Programme Director Neil Wallace shaped an extraordinary interesting music marathon in four parts:

  • Part 1 - Concert by Bang on a Can All-Stars
  • Part 2 - Brian Eno's Music for Airports by Bang on a Can All-Stars and students of Codarts
  • Part 3 - Introduction to the evening concert of Bang on a Can All-Stars and Ensemble Klang
  • Part 4 - Evening concert of Bang on a Can All-Stars and Ensemble Klang
Actually the Marathon consisted of a fifth part: Table music. A buffet with players and audience, which I was unable to attend.
Bang on a Can (BoaC). Who else? A world famous music platform of composers and players dedicated to innovative music. Which is artistically led by composers Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon and David Lang. Often the players, the BoaC All-Stars perform work by these renowned composers. But also Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is of importance for BoaC. Spearheading the transatlantic collaboration between the US and European musical scenes.

Bang on a Can All-Stars

The Bang on a Can All-Stars kicked off the Marathon with an afternoon concert. Guitarist Mark Stewart introduced the pack:"Hi, we're Bang on a Can All-Stars and we're from New York. We have prepared some of our favourite pieces for this concert. We are going to play pieces of our three artistic directors, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. And finally a piece of Steve Martland. Who has a connection with The Netherlands, having lived over here and studied with Louis Andriessen. It is special to bring back this piece." They kicked off with David Lang's 'sunray'. Inspired by the sun shining on an advertisement board of the firm Sun Cleaner. At first the music like the sunrays have a low intensity. Suddenly the music explodes with the sunrays hitting the board in full. The All-Stars followed this up by Julia Wolfe's piece 'Believing'. Starting off with a soloing cello, accompanied by percussion, the double bass and guitar join in followed by keyboard and clarinet. All this uptempo. The cello then slows down the piece for the guitar to take the lead. After a while the keyboard takes over. Gradually the piece takes on a religious appearance by the chant of celloist Ashley Bathgate. To culminate in a pandemonium. Michael Gordon's 'for Madeline' is a kind of requiem of spiritual music. With obvious traces of lamentation. The finale came with Horses of Instruction. Which composer British Steve Martland wrote for the All-Stars. A highly rythmical and energetic piece.

Bang on a Can All-Stars and students of the Codarts Conservatory play Music for Airports by Brian Eno

Later the Bang on a Can All-Stars teamed up with students of the Rotterdam Codarts Conservatory to perform Brian Eno's 'Music for Airports'. In a informal setting with pillows to relax the four part composition, directed by Ken Thomson, was presented. I can image that this piece is meant as relaxation for air passengers in hectic air terminals. About fifty minutes the audience was spellbound by this music, occasionally accompanied by the sounds of a moving escalator.

Bang on a Can Al-Stars Ken Thomson, Mark Stewart and Robert Black on the Red Sofa

Next up was interviewer Neil Wallace questioning BoaC All-Stars, Ken Thomson, Mark Stewart and Robert Black, and Ensemble Klang members, Joey Marijs and Pete Harden, about radicality of the ensembles and innovation in contemporary music.

Ensemble Klang

The main course was the evening concert. Ensemble Klang kicked it off with a piece by American composer Oscar Bettison called 'ppop'. A commision by Ensemble Klang. On basis of a Dutch poem by Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer, which Oscar 'translated' into a kind of popsong with verses and chorus and with a change of keys. It starts with Pete Harden voicing some sounds and it fades out on vocals by Saskia Lankhoorn. Oscar:"My popsong is a song without words , and without notes as well...." Fuse by Dutch composer Jan-Bas Bollen consist of two parts. Lower Art, a slow part with minimal grooves. And Censor in which despite it's name the piece liberates with an aberrant motive. Jan-Bas wrote the composition in 2003 for Ensemble Klang. A change of scene: The All-Stars took over. They performed Louis Andriessen's 'Life'. A four part piece with a fine accompanying movie by Dutch filmmaker Marijke van Warmerdam. Louis composed the short parts intermingling late-romantic European music with minimal music. Then Dutch composer and Head of the Composition Department of the The Hague Conservatory Martijn Padding introduced his work 'FIX-US'. Martijn told:"In 1996 the Dutch National Television had a wonderful idea. They wanted to make a film about the influence of Holland on American composers. And the influence of American composers on Dutch composers. And they had the idea to follow two composers, young composers then, so 20 years ago. Both writing a piece for the Bang on a Can All-Stars. So that was Julia Wolfe and me. It took four or five years before that movie was finished. And in the end there were only little shots of Julia and me sweating trying to get our pieces finished because the time that was left for writing the piece was very little. The movie is called 'In The Ocean'. And actually you can see it on YouTube. My piece is on one hand strict canons and two part chorals. Really a thing of Dutch culture. And on the other hand their is a pop kind of thing. Because twenty years ago I was very much into watching movies of Jerry Lee Lewis. Especially the song 'Great balls of fire'. And Jerry was an amazing piano player, who did not only play with his hands. But he was also very virtuoso in playing with his feet on the piano. And I remember that I seriously thought about asking Lisa Moore to do that. But then I imagined this very elegant woman on stage. And then I thought I cannot do that. Now, I would actually." After Martijn's piece the stage was set for Ensemble Klang to perform 'Nu descendant un escalier'. A typical Peter Adriaansz composition, with waves of long notes. Then Neil Wallace joined the ensemble on stage to perform 'Narayana's cows' by Tom Johnson. Narrator Neil poses this question:"Narayana was an Indian mathematician in the 14th century, who proposed the following problem: A cow produces one calf every year. Beginning in its fourth year, each calf produces one calf at the beginning of each year. How many cows are there altogether after, for example, 17 years?" Narrator and musicians then interact, with the musicians playing a note for every cow. A highly mathematical approach of music as we are accustomed to in Tom's compositions. By the way 'Rational Melody #13' is my favourite. The "momentum" switched back to the BoaC All-Stars. They presented two of the so called Field Recordings. First Fade to slide by Christian Marclay. Followed by Anna Clyne's wonderful day'. Inspired by a the chant of a homeless Chicagoan, with a deep, raw voice.
Before the long awaited finale Mark Stewart took the microphone:"It's been lovely being here tonight and today. Playing all this music. And having food with one another. We will finish with Forgiveness by Pete Harden. And we were very lucky during rehearsel, because the composer was playing guitar and still is. And we are very happy. This is a new venture, two groups together. And it has just been an absolute delight. So we are very happy to bring here: Forgiveness. And this will be our final piece tonight. So, see you next time." And both Bang on a Can All-Stars and Ensemble Klang starred in the work by Klang's artictic director. A three movement piece: Disco, Sparta and Nirvana. First the ensembles battle hard against each other, like a face off. The same instruments, beginning with the pianos, pair up in the second part. With siren sounds by the brass trio (including a tubax!). The guitars lead the way to a mutual danse of both ensembles. A grande finale.

Bang on a Can All-Stars and Ensemble Klang in Pete Harden's Forgiveness

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