Over 27 years ago, David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe set out on a path towards creating a home for experimental music. Over the past three weeks I have been totally immersed in one of their many great achievements, the Bang on a Can festival at Mass Moca. Bang hand picks 10 composers and 27 instrumentalists from around the world to live at Mass Moca and collaborate.
The results have been absolutely stunning, and the fellows are left wondering why life cannot always be like this. We have the gift of an unbelievably creative community with an inspiring home and nothing to do but make shit happen. We spend our days rehearsing with colleagues and mentors on some of the great experimental music, learning to play the music of Senegal and Cuba, brainstorming short and long term projects over beers, executing truly collaborative projects in a gallery of our choosing, and enjoying the onslaught of face-melting performances. I am overdosing on fun and life is good.
Bang on a Can shines a light on the gaping holes in the logic of conservatories in the United States. I’ve seen composers struggle to get more than a few performances a year, and instrumentalists brush off composers like they are one of a thousand obstacles in the way of success. The conservatory can sometimes feel like a self imposed(and expensive) jail cell for insane people striving for an unattainable goal. Conservatories are failing to teach students that there is not enough room for everyone in the classical music world. They instill this fear that if one does not practice standard rep 6 hours per day they won’t achieve the holy grail of a seat in a major orchestra. What they leave out of the curriculum is the fact that there are endless paths a musician can take towards bringing music to people who need it, and the path is way more desirable when friends walk together. Banglewood provides the perfect setting for friends to find each other and explore.
The system is broken, and Bang on a Can is fixing it. The orchestral bubble is bursting and the the hipness of new music is on the rise. Since the inaugural festival 12 years ago, the number of new music ensembles has exploded. One can hear new music in New York City practically every night of the week. Fellows are taking this infectious collaborative energy at Mass Moca and bringing it to their respective cities. Fellows are getting shit done. Concurrently, orchestras are striking, going bankrupt, and folding. Conservatories better hop on this bandwagon quick. They are missing out on an opportunity to change the world.
Do yourself a favor and explore the music of Adam Cuthbert, Erik DeLuca, Alex Dowling, Stephen Feigenbaum, Ben Hjertmann, Finola Merivale, Emma O’Halloran, Brendon Randall-Myers, Max Stoffregen, and Liza White. These are some of the new friends that Friction Quartet will walk with. Excuse me while I have my mind blown for 6 hours at the marathon tonight.