July 31, 2005

bang on a what?

I headed out to the Berkshires - North Adams specifically - yesterday. I love it out there because it is an amazing combination of natural beauty and cultural beauty. MASS MoCA is one of my favorite museums, and Mt. Greylock and surrounding areas are gorgeous, especially on a beautiful day like the one we had yesterday.
My trip was designed to give me plenty of these offerings. First I went on a mountain bike ride up and down Mt. Greylock. I climbed on the road (8% grade for 6.5 miles!) and descended via an assortment of trails. This ride was consistent with every other time I have biked or hiked out there in that I got lost. I had a map and everything, but I kept on wanting to explore and kept on getting myself further and further from anything that even thought about being on said map. Clearly I did find myself eventually, but not after 3 hours or hard pedaling, which, after my 'shower' in the river, made me about half an hour late for the concert at MASS MoCA that I was attending.
You might be thinking this is terrible, but thankfully the concert was a unique one in that it was a classical 'new' music show that lasted for 6 hours and the participants were encouraged to come and go as they pleased. So yes, I missed a few pieces at the beginning, but still had 5.5 hours of music to enjoy.

The concert was the annual Bang On A Can Marathon (a name that does absolutely no good at all trying to convince anyone under 40 that classical music isn't totally dorky). BOAC is a new music collective based in New York and every year they convene their faculty of eleven incredible musicians with an assortment of music students from all over the world for a month or so out in North Adams and, well, see what happens. It sounds like it would be a pretty remarkable experience. This year, Steve Reich was the composer in residence, and therein lies the main reason I attended this show. More on him in a second, but first, the performance.
The format, as I mentioned, was pretty casual with an emcee and the ability to come and go as you please without feeling like you are interrupting some fragile and dainty situation. More classical concerts should be like this.
There were three Steve Reich pieces performed. I was unimpressed by the performance of Drumming, Part 3, but Eight Lines and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ were great. My favorite new piece by far was David Lang's Sweet Air which was simply incredibly beautiful; I could have listened to it for twice as long. Marc Mellits' 5 Machines was very interesting, but the piece that took the prize for most experimental and intellectually fascinating was Critical Band by James Tenney. It had six woodwinds, a french horn and electronics slowly deviating more and less from an A producing the craziest rhythmic phasing in and out of tones I've ever heard from live instruments. There was nothing but long tones played by the musicians, yet their interplay and purposeful detuning created some insanely rhythmic aural artifacts. I imagine that piece is different every time it is played. I wonder what the score looks like.

The most exciting part about the evening was accomplishing something I had wanted to for some time, and that was to introduce myself to Mr. Reich himself and give him my cd. He was so gracious and unpretentious. I can't even imagine walking up to any minorly well-known rock musician of the moment and having such a simple and easy conversation as I did with Mr. Reich. The crazy thing is that this guy is an absolute god in terms of modern music. He has been accused of being America's greatest living composer, among other things, and I wouldn't disagree. He's the classical equivalent of U2 in terms of fame. I'm serious. This tells you something about the difference between the popular music scene and the 'new' music scene.

In any case, he now has my cd and indicated he would listen and perhaps respond via email. I have been tremendously influenced by him and it feels really good that he now can listen to what I have done. I wouldn't say that my music sounds like his, but I'm sure he'll hear the influence with the voices and the marimba patterns. Let's hope for the best.

Posted by halsey at July 31, 2005 09:19 AM
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