This past Friday, I saw the venerable new music juggernauts, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, perform works from their most recent release. The more general Bang on a Can collective (sans the all-stars) was started over 25 years ago by composers David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe with the noble pursuit to create “an international community dedicated to innovative music, wherever it is found.” Still best known for their marathon concerts, which have lasted up to 24 hours, the organization also remains active via their summer residency at Mass Moca and, since 2001, through the adventurous record label, Cantaloupe Music.
The All-Stars play like a great rock band. And the instrumentation—guitar, cello, bass, clarinet, and percussion—is more pop than traditional new music ensemble anyhow. This dynamic translates into the pinpoint rhythmic precision that is perhaps their greatest asset.
The group’s unabashed love of the new and earnest playfulness makes me smile. Charismatic and bodhisattva-esque guitarist Mark Stewart remarked between pieces that the Can’s job is not to judge the music, but instead to give the best performance possible—history will sort out the rest. A powerful philosophy of music for sure.
Over the years, the All-Stars have commissioned and recorded major projects with composers like Brian Eno (Music for Airports) and Steve Reich (2×5). Listen to the later in a live performance from the Barbican Centre. Notice how the piece is scored for double “rock” band, hence 2×5! Good ol’ Steve.