North Adams, Mass. – Coming back to a live performance and finding a classical music institution in poor health can be like putting on a pair of old jeans and searching for an easy fit, with relief.
That’s what it felt like to attend the Bang on Cain’s Loud weekend festival held at the Mass MoCA campus here on Friday and Saturday, a return to form for the new musical group after hosting 15 months of streamed concerts.
With more than 20 hours of performances, you can see one familiar look after another—all the hallmarks of the dreamy, free bang on a Cane Marathon in New York City. But here, in a two-day, paid-ticket environment, there was more time for each musician’s set to take on an individual character. And even though some of the cast dealt with the shock of the first day, most of the appearances were full of crunchy, defiant polish—as if they had spent no time away from the audience.
This was especially true for pianist Lisa Moore’s show on Friday, which featured pieces by Philip Glass, Don Byrne, Martin Bresnik – and more from a world premiere. Frederick Rzewski, who died in June. The set was a confirmation of the explanatory insight he brought these musicians on that Recording. And the Rzewski premiere—”Amoramaro,” subtitled “Love Has No Law”—was bittersweet: an alternately seductive and prickly reminder of all his music that can no longer be written.
“Amoramaro,” commissioned by her husband for Moore, is still something to treasure (and, of course, record). Its sometimes lush melody—half-memorized and half-adapted from American Songbooks—comes with austere, fast runs that create trapeze-swing connections between distant registers. and its climax, may have been inspired by the banging groups Rzewski’s experience of playing in Stockhausen’s “Klavierstuck”. It all together, held for more than 15 minutes, was a testament to both Rzewski’s peculiar and personal palette, and Moore’s keenness.
Elsewhere, the festival took on boldface names: it’s telling that this weekend audience members were asking each other, “Which Chronos Quartet concert was better?” For me, it was Friday Night, a gloomy but intense set that began with Jilin’s “Little Black Book” and ended with Jacob Garchik’s “Storyteller.” That performance was more consistent than Saturday’s performance, which played well but was more spread out, including Terry Riley’s “This assortment of atoms—only once!” The premiere was included. – A charming but minor addition to the musician Kronos. important body of work for.
Like the previous Bang on a Can Marathon, contemporary and modernist trends from around the world were present and accounted for at Loud Weekend. These included French chromaticism (in the music of Gérard Griese); 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 whole solo acts. NS Violinist, improviser and composer Madge Swift hit an early Saturday night with her “Sancofa Project” performance, which she has described as “a re-imagining of so-called slave songs, as well as freedom songs and my own versions of what I’m calling modern-day protest songs.” When Swift used subtle electronic processing to enhance certain chest-voiced notes—or when she looped a striped violin passage to create a hazy cloud that supported Spitfire solo lines—the extent of her influence was protein. as proved because it was powerful.
In addition to the starry headliners, there were also Bang on a Can Summer Institute students who were given moments to shine. Some of them seemed ready to create their own ensembles, and perhaps return for future festivals. Saxophonist Julian Velasco, for example, excelled as part of a mixed professional and student ensemble. Julius Eastman’s “Woman” on Friday, and as part of a pair playing Shelley Washington’s “Big Talk” on Saturday.
Ken Thomson, a seasoned supporter of Velasco’s fellow in Washington, was an almost omnipresent force in both days, as a member of the organization’s house group, Bang on a Can All-Stars.
Thomson and his fellow All-Stars did well on Friday with their moniker “workers’ union”—a vigorous take on a minimalism-influenced classic by Louis Andreessen, who died in July. And while the band’s capstone set on Saturday night—which doubled as the festival finale—played crisply and energetically, its schedule was mixed.
That concert featured a new arrangement of Terry Riley’s “Autodrymography Tales” (soon to be released on an All-Stars recording), a work that appears to be a curio in the legendary composer’s output. Or a curio on top of a curio, because this version has its roots in an obscure piece Riley Recorded in the 1990s.
Its text comes from a dream journal that Riley kept for a while. There are moments of low-key humor, and the “Tales” music skewering the ego in a winning way; We find out how often in Riley’s dreams other musicians praise her work. But the piece also spins, and isn’t always as clever as the subconscious might have hoped – the way dreams are repeated.
“Tales” nonetheless provides stray pleasures, especially whenever Riley dreams of a vamping blues or rock number—happily arranged here by his son, Gyan Riley. Guitarist Mark Stewart took on vocal duties, as Riley has been in Japan since the start of the pandemic. (He made a brief appearance in the form of a live, light-hearted video intro.)
In the final hours on Saturday’s lineup, listeners could sprint from a small set. Rising Star Nathalie Joachim (sings and plays the flute on some parts His famous album “Fanam de Ayati”), to a concert of pandemic solos started by Bang on a Can for their virtual marathon during the pandemic.
I couldn’t bear to listen to those livestream marathons all this time. I tried it, but the disturbing audio – unavoidable when artists were streaming from so many places – registered as subtle tragedies that distracted from the works themselves. I told myself that I would hear some of them in the future; And I did on Saturday.
A string of works opened the day for All-Stars bassist Robert Black, including the spectral, spooky “Pending” of Maria Huld Marken Siegfusdottir. And after Joachim set, I listened to a trio of pieces written and isolated by Erin Santillon, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Anna Klein, all written for Thomson.
This is a secret power of Bang on a Can. It attracts the audience with grand names. But if the legends disappoint in an hour, as Riley did, there’s always the next set — and the next generation — to save the day.