Bangin’ it up at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival

To call Mark Stewart a guitarist would be a disservice. The multi-talented redhead leads participants at MASS MoCA in making some noise with some of his homemade tubes during the 2010 Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. (Photo © 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

It’s a disservice to call Mark Stewart a guitarist. He leads a group at MASS MoCA in making some noise with some of his homemade tubes during the 2010 Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. (Photo © 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

18 days of fantastic summer music in the Berkshires

Today’s subject: MASS MoCA.

I’ve written a lot lately about the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, especially in the last month or two because of Wilco’s splendid Solid Sound Festival, held on the museum campus in North Adams, Mass., in late June.

When Wilco announced the inaugural Solid Sound back in 2010, I pretty much knew it would be great because I had already seen MASS MoCA host many, many editions of the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival — colloquially known at Banglewood.

If you’ve been a regular reader of Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?, you already know something about the Bang on a Can program. This summer’s program is the 12th annual festival on the beautiful industrial MASS MoCA grounds.

But maybe you’re not a musician, or at least not one who wants to participate in the festival. How does this matter to you?

Rain on the MASS MoCA campus. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Rain on the MASS MoCA campus. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

That’s easy. Festival participants do their learning in public, putting on recitals six days a week and participating in a public Marathon concert on the final day. There’s also a performance of Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe‘s Steel Hammer, a full-length piece that weaves together the many variations of the John Henry folk legend.

So there’s plenty of professional-quality entertainment  for people who are just interested in listening and looking at some modern art. (Click through to the jump for schedule and ticketing information.)

A group shot from a previous year's Summer Music Festival.

A group shot from a previous year’s Summer Music Festival.

It’s an immersive program, running from July 17 to Aug. 3, that has talented students (instrumentalists, composers and singers selected by competitive application) working side-by-side with seasoned professional musicians from the broadly defined world of contemporary music. It encourages students and teachers to learn from each other (yes, it’s a two-way street), collaborate, create and perform.

This year’s faculty features:
Gregg August (bass)
Ashley Bathgate (cello)
Vicky Chow (piano)
David Cossin (percussion)
Michael Gordon (composer, Bang on a Can Co-Artistic Director)
David Lang (composer, Bang on a Can Co-Artistic Director)
Nicholas Photinos (cello)
Vicki Ray (piano)
Todd Reynolds (violin)
Mark Stewart (electric guitar)
Ken Thomson (clarinet, saxophone)
Julia Wolfe (composer, Bang on a Can Co-Artistic Director)
Special guest: Amadou Lamine Touré (Senegalese drumming)

While MASS MoCA is a beautiful place in the awesome Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, this is no vacation. Students pay nearly $2,000 tuition to participate in an intense daily schedule that looks like this:

  • 9–10 Morning Movement
  • 10–11 special-projects seminars
  • 11–1 Rehearsal
  • 1–2:30 Lunch/recitals
  • 2:30–4:30 Rehearsals/composer seminars
  • 4:30–5:30 Recital in gallery
  • 6pm Dinner
  • 7pm private practice, evening seminars, etc.

It’s fun, but hard work, too. And it really pays off. Some student like it so much they come back for more.


When: Daily through Aug. 3.

Where: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass. 01247. Call  413-662-2111 or email INFO@MASSMoCA.ORG

Galleries are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

What: Recitals at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday in various galleries. (Details here.)

Ticketed concerts:

Saturday, July 27: Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer performed by Bang on a Can All Stars and special guests – Julia Wolfe’s mesmerizing evening-length art ballad Steel Hammer is inspired by her love for the legends and music of Appalachia, and culls from both the music and oral traditions of the region. The text is taken from over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad – based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales – and explores the subject of human vs. machine in this quintessential American legend. Steel Hammer was runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and stretches the standard instrumentation of Bang on a Can All-Stars with wooden bones, mountain dulcimer, banjo, and more, to evoke the rich instrumental colors of Appalachia. The New York Times calls it a “wild hybrid” and an “obsessive study of the song’s many versions.” More information and tickets here.

Saturday, Aug 3: the 12th Annual Summer Marathon -Bang on a Can’s annual 6-hour day-night boundary-busting festival concert featuring 50+ musicians and composers from around the world has become one of the most diverse, open and exciting summer music events in the Berkshires. Some of the many highlights of this year’s show include music by techno master Aphex Twin performed by a 20-member amplified chamber orchestra of festival musicians with guest conductor Alan Pierson of Alarm Will Sound; David Lang’s these broken wings recently featured on the 2013 GRAMMY Awards; British renegade composer Steve Martland‘s classic Horses of Instruction; Michael Gordon’s The Sad Park for string quartet, Bang on a Can’s Orchestra of Original Instruments, and much more.

MUSIC BY: Gregg August, Jacob Druckman, Sean Friar, Michael Gordon, Annie Gosfield, Eleanor Hovda, Bun Ching Lam, David Lang, Ingram Marshall, Steve Martland, Bill Ryan, Ken Thomson, Aphex Twin, Julia Wolfe, and the Orchestra of Original Instruments. More information and tickets here.

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