Bang On: What to Listen for at Sunday's Bang on a Can Festival

Email a Friend

Bang on a Can's annual summer marathon offers 12+ hours of new music on a blissful Sunday afternoon. And though the World Financial Center's Winter Garden does have the acoustics of a shopping mall, it also boasts a dome-like effect of sound that allows the works of what will this year be over 150 musicians to flood the cavernous space. It also allows listeners to come and go as they please, curating individual experiences of this singular annual happening.

In the past, operatic works have caused the entire Winter Garden to fall silent (who could forget 2009's performance of Julia Wolfe's Thirst?), and while the trend this year errs definitely toward the instrumental, there are still a few key vocal performances to add to Monday's bangover.

Young People's Chorus of New York City
Over two decades old yet forever young, the YPC consistently churns out polished performances in works by the likes of John Adams and Terry Riley, and alongside ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet. At 4 pm, they team up with evocative cellist Maya Beiser, percussionist Payton MacDonald and composer-pianist Michael Harrison for Harrison's meditative Hijaz. YPC commissioned this work and gave its world premiere last month at the 92nd Street Y and undertake the piece's central pilgrimage once again today. Also in the 4 pm to 6 pm block, the chorus teams up with omnipresent marathon fixture JACK Quartet to revisit another work they premiered, BOAC cofounder Michael Gordon's intense work, Exalted.

Talea Ensemble and Tony Arnold
The Talea Ensemble emerged as one of the highlights of Bang on a Can 2010 Marathon with the criminally-overdue US premiere of Fausto Romitelli's Professor Bad Trip. One year later and they're back for more, with New York's first listen of another Romitelli work, An Index of Metals, given in the 6 pm to 8 pm slot. Soprano Tony Arnold, a specialist in new music, joins the Taleas for this work whose aim, in the composer's own words, "is to turn the secular form of opera into an experience of total perception, plunging the spectator into an incandescent matter that is both luminous and sonorous, a magma of flowing sounds, shapes and colours, with no narrative but that of hypnosis, possession and trance." In other words, don't try to analyze the work, just let it wash over you. While he tragically died of cancer at the age of 41, shortly following the world premiere of Index, it's thrilling to see Romitelli live on so vibrantly in his works.

Toby Twining
Like much of Twining's music, his work Eurydice is a curious work insofar as how it can be classified. Written as the score for a play by Sarah Ruhl, it's hardly incidental. In fact, played on its own (now possible thanks to this year's release of the work on Cantaloupe Records, the in-house label for Bang on a Can), this work of vocal endurance and unhinged passion verges on the operatic, not in the least due to its retelling of the classic and operatic Orpheus myth. Eurydice's a cappella syncopation and earthy melodies walk the line between its Baroque forebears in such incarnations as Monteverdi and Gluck and the resonant rhythms and visceral beauty of Paul Simon circa Graceland. There will be no actors to supplement this performance in the 8 pm to 10 pm block, just a whole lot of singing--and that alone is worth a trip to hell and back.

Vocal or otherwise, what have been some of your favorite Bang on a Can moments?