“There’s a lot going on here,” she says. “There are great people who share the same values as us.”
As an alumnus, she plans to spend as much time as she can soaking up the atmosphere and performances at this year’s festival, which runs from Monday to July 31. Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe dreamed up long before they launched the summer festival 20 years ago.
“We knew a lot of people involved in experimental music, but it felt like we had met them all by accident,” says Lang, another former trombonist whose choral work “The Little Match Girl Passion” won the award. Pulitzer of Music in 2008. “We felt there should be a place where people interested in experimental culture could meet on purpose.
After launching Bang on a Can with a marathon concert in 1987, the co-founders spent years searching the art world for clues on how best to implement their ideas for the summer institute.
“The art world constantly renews and challenges itself,” says Lang.
Conversely, he notes, in contemporary classical music, a new work is usually evaluated on its chance of joining the pantheon of classical tradition.
“I love this music,” Lang says. “I’m not saying that I don’t like this music. But in the art world, the whole industry is already saying that we believe in the people who are working right now, and we believe that their work should be empowering, should be seen, discussed and enjoyed.
This year’s “New Musical Utopia” at the Mass MoCA will feature more than two dozen young composers and musicians working with the summer faculty. Each day begins with a movement class, continues with workshops and rehearsals, and concludes with late afternoon recitals (free with museum admission) in the Mass MoCA’s wide array of industrial spaces. .
Participants are encouraged to explore the huge complex and be inspired by the art installations. Visitors to the galleries during “Banglewood” weeks (as the festival is affectionately dubbed) will encounter musicians collaborating and practicing throughout the day.
“We and the students discover how to take advantage of each space in the Mass MoCA,” says Lang. This, he thinks, is a good lesson for a budding musician: don’t shut yourself up.
“We talk to them about how to work with electronics, how to improvise, how to collaborate with each other, how to design a program, how to sign a contract, how to decide what your mission is. We talk to them about what you want to do more of and what you want to do less of.
This year’s festival will culminate with the return of LOUD Weekend, a three-day program featuring some of the Fellows alongside a curated selection of new music. The poster features artwork by George Crumb and Steve Reich, a solo by keyboardist Yuka Honda, the electric guitar duo of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and composer Phil Kline performing a live soundtrack of Thomas Edison films, and the world premiere of Can Dance, a commissioned series of films created by renowned choreographers and accompanied live by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
For Lang, Bang on a Can represents an invitation to explore.
“I think people should have the right to have as narrow or as wide an experience as they want,” he says. “I have no problem with someone saying, ‘My whole life is Mozart’s symphonies.’ But I think the thing that sometimes happens in music is that you’re encouraged to find your box, and then it becomes very difficult to find things outside of your box, even slightly.
“For me, the appeal of Bang on a Can is that it’s a way of listening to what’s new in music. You can apply this questioning to anything you hear – classical, but also jazz, or popular, or world music.
It’s a philosophy of life, he says: “An attitude of how you wake up in the morning and want to be refreshed.”
BANG ON A CAN SUMMER FESTIVAL
At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams. July 11-31. bangonacan.org/summer_festival
James Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.