BANG ON A CAN Music Festival at MASSMoCA 

BANG ON A CAN was formed in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe. They continue to be dedicated to commissioning, performing, creating, presenting and recording contemporary music. The Summer Festival at MASSMoCA in No. Adams, MA, now in it’s 15th year, is a three week educational program in which young international composers and performers immerse themselves in contemporary music. This year included 34 Fellow performers and 9 Fellow composers and 14 faculty members. 

I’ve been to many BoaC Marathons in NYC over the years. They’ve ranged from 10 hours to 27 hours long and I was there for all of those hours. It wasn’t held in NYC this year which was the main reason I decided to come to the festival in North Adams, MA. I love what BoaC creates and presents.

See why below. 

Saturday, July 23rd 

My first concert, performed by Bang on a Can All-Star pianist Vicky Chow, was at 4:30 in the lovely recital room. Her playing is magnificent and she killed it this day with a world premiere by Chris Cerrone, “The Arching Path,” which is the kind of music that makes me want to close my eyes (which I did) and spread my arms wide open to take it all in (which I didn’t) She also performed compositions by BoaC Founders David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. The latter piece, “Sonatra” was shattering and exhilarating and played with passion. The sculpture in the photo is by Tom Friedman: Untitled – blue space station, styrofoam and paint.

Vicky Chow  

Then came dinner at the MASSMoCA café with Keith Martin, a fellow new music aficionado who I met in NY. And then on to the big night of music in the large 600 seat Hunter Hall. The first half was performed by the All-Stars playing music from their “Field Recordings,” where the musicians play over various fascinating recordings such as bird songs, a woman talking about quilting, and a wife snoring (weird). The second half was Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports.” This piece was actually written by Eno to be played at airports to calm anxieties of all the stress and turmoil that can happen when traveling. It was not meant as a concert piece but I’m so glad the All-Stars made that happen. Just as an aside, they performed this at the San Diego Airport awhile ago and that was the first time it had actually been played at an airport. Cool. 

Also Cool:   Shoes of the musician from The Netherlands

Sunday, July 24

This was a quiet day so I explored the town but everything was closed. However, there are churches all over the place. So I researched the history of MASSMoCA (link below) and read my book. These are only a few of the churches within two blocks of my hotel.

While the 4:30pm concert was interesting, it was not my favorite. — John Cage composed "Atlas Eclipticalis” in 1961-62. His most famous piece, “4: 33 seconds” (no sound played by the pianist sitting at the piano and turning pages of the score) was composed in 1962 and changed how people heard and thought about music: all sound is music. His concepts are much more interesting to me than his music, but I sure acknowledge his place and importance in music history. This piece, like most of his music, was sparse and quiet with no beat or melody. I’ve always thought it would be fun to get up and dance to one of those completely un-danceable pieces. Another thing I won’t do, but the thought keeps coming back. The best part for me was watching how the audience listened in this huge room. Take a look at a few. 

Monday, July 25

For starters, it was 87 degrees that day. Tim Thomas, Bang on a Can’s Director of Development, took me on a tour of the area before our lunch together. So I got to see Williamstown, Williams College and all those New England homes and millions of trees – we have nothing like this in San Diego. He’s been so nice to me—arranging for my hotel, getting me a guest pass for all the concerts and giving me a big hug upon my arrival. 

At 1:30pm, there were 4 concerts in 3 different venues around the museum performed by some of the Fellows. What talented up-and-comers. 

Then at 4:30pm there was a World Premiere Composer Concert. All the music performed by the Fellows, performing the music by the 9 Fellow Composers. This was a big deal for them and for the audience as well. 

Then, special for me, was the opportunity to go to two rehearsals of Martin Bresnick’s music which will be performed tomorrow. His “Prayers Remain Forever” is one of my favorite pieces and lucky me got to hear them practice: Ashley Bathgate, BoaC All-Star cellist, and Thomas Kotcheff, Fellow pianist and L.A.-based who I hope to bring to Fresh Sound. Bresnick was there and this is when I learn so much, hearing him go over the scores with the musicians gives me insight into the music. Love that! 

Martin Bresnick and Me

Tuesday, July 26

The 1:30pm concert composed and performed by the Fellows with one piece by John Luther Adams whose big composition, “Ten Thousand Birds” will be performed on Thursday. These concerts are very good and I look forward to learn how the musician fellows progress over the years. 

The 4:30pm concert was mainly by the All-Stars and was wonderful. All music was composed by Martin Bresnick, one of my favorite composers and professor at Yale. Those All-Stars are really great musicians and perform with passion. They played “Going Home” for an oboe and 3 strings quartet,(oboist Theodosia Roussou also studying at USC is another musician I’d like to bring to San Diego). “Prayers Remain Forever” which I already said is a real favorite, “Bucket Rider” and “BE JUST” from his Opera Della Musica Povera. Bresnick’s music touches me in many ways - all good. 

“Prayers Remain Forever” Thomas Kotcheff (Fellow) and Ashley Bathgate (All-Star) 

Bang on a Can All-Stars Mark Stewart, guitar; David Cossin, percussion; Gregg August, bass;

Ashley Bathgate, cello; Ken Thompson, clarinets; Vicky Chow, piano

At 6 pm, Bang on a Can has arranged for free dinners for the Fellows and they said it was fine for me too. A nice time to hang out with all. 

Wednesday, July 27

Had a lovely breakfast at the Museum Café with Martin Bresnick and some Fellows. Martin has many great stories to tell – and that he did.      He’s funny, smart and nice – a great combination. 

1:30pm Four concerts by the Fellows were held in three different spaces – 2nd floor, 1st floor, 3rd floor which meant running up and down – whew. Albert Behar’s was the most fun. He played accordion and sang high up on the stairs in the huge Nonas Gallery 

The music of Bun-Ching Lam from China was performed at the 4:30pm concert. The “Piccolo Concertino” was performed by eleven of the Fellows and some of the combinations were new for me and lovely, for instance: piccolo, bassoon and bass. “Four Beckett Songs” and “Last Spring” were also lovely.

Bun-Ching Lam

"Last Spring"

Then out to Windsor Lake for an evening picnic, a concert and basking in the lovliness. What a gorgeous place. Not that San Diego isn’t gorgeous, but this is so New England – lake, trees and those amazing homes. This was a free concert for the community and the big lawn was full of families. Mark Stewart (BoaC guitarist) got us all going – clapping and singing along to the music. Fun.

Kids loving it and dancing along

A little bluegrass too

The perfect ending of the day was John Luther Adams reading from his lovely Memoir to be published soon. His writing is as beautiful as his music. 

Thursday, July 28


Four concerts by present or past Fellow composers and performers. It is fascinating to hear what these “kids” create and perform. They get to choose any gallery in which they would like to perform. You can see their great choices. 

I had a chance to talk with composer Robert Honstein. I just learned about his music and love it, so it was nice to meet him and hear more.

For instance: “Patter” which was performed by Kate Dreyfuss (violin), Zan Berry (cello), and Abby Fisher (marimba).

Robert Honstein listening to his music

Cody and I have become music buddies while hanging around outside the museum. His “Cody Sextet” was premiered this day. 

"Sol LeWitt 1 and 2" from Blue Series by Cody Takacs  

Performed by Thomas Kotcheff (toy piano), Tom Sanderman (saxophone), Nick Pauly (viola), James Burch (cello), Cody Takacs (bass), Evan Saddler (percussion)

Performed by Allison Wright (trumpet), Tyler Taylor (French horn), Cole Bartels (trombone)

4:30 pm

ASH by Sleeping Giants

Performed by the brilliant Ashley Bathgate, solo cello

All of these were composed by members of the composer collective, Sleeping Giant. Four of the composers were past Fellows at BoaC MASSMoCA. All of them have become prominent in the new music world. Some of the pieces performed were acoustic and some with electronics. All beautiful.  

Small Wonder - Timo Andres   On Being Wrong - Chris Cerrone 

For Ashley - Andrew Norman   DaVZ23HzMH0- Ted Hearne 

Ley Line - Jacob Cooper   Orison - Robert Honstein 

Solo cello concert by Ashley Bathgate


“10,000 Birds” by John Luther Adams

This was performed in the huge gallery space by all of the 34 Fellow composers. They wandered around the space playing their multitude of instruments for an hour. It was lovely but I kept thinking of how nice it would be to hear this performed outside in the woods.

Love this. Me and JL Adams listening to his music

To give you an idea of the size of the room

Friday, July 29


Four concerts by the Fellows

The first concert was held in a tiny very dark room with hanging sparkly lights. Composer Brechtje van Dijk sang and Allison Wright played trumpet. 

We ran upstairs to the third floor for the second and third concerts which were a real treat. Theodosia Roussos, the oboist, sang this time and I was dazzled by her voice. Great. A string quartet accompanied her. 

The next concert was for cello and voice – also very good. Justine Aronson, voice and Zan Berry, cello. Concert 4 was solo bassoon by Garrett Brown. That would usually be a tough one but not with him playing! Concert 5 was also with a great vocalist, Lisa Perry, along with flute, clarinet and percussion.

Zan Berry and Justine Aronson

While sitting outside waiting for the afternoon gig, I briefly met the MASSMoCA architect. He told me that current museum has 600,000 sq. ft and the new addition to be opened in 2017 will add another 132,000 sq. ft. Big.


The Percussion Music of John Luther Adams

These were three widely varied pieces. Two soft and one REALLY LOUD. “Always Very Soft” is aptly named. The instruments were glasses and cymbals played with tiny sticks and bongos/congos played lightly with drum sticks. Very delicate and intricate. Next “. . . and bells remembered. . .” quietly and gently played on an array of percussion: two xylophones, chimes, crotales and glockenspiel. John wrote these when he was in his 20s and updated in the 2000s. Now, the last piece was played on four big concert bass drums stationed around the space. John warned us, however I didn’t budge. It was captivating and exciting and loud. Magical.

John checking the set up before the concert

Jeff Stern with crotale and bow. Cool. 

Saturday, July 30


We were given a tour by Joe Thompson, Director of MASSMoCA, of the 132,00 sq ft of the building under construction. Impressive to say the least. It will be dedicated to long-term exhibitions by artists such as James Terrell.

Joe Thompson, Director

Me and Ashley Bathgate touring

4 – 10pm 

Bang on a Can Marathon 

Obviously, I can’t/won’t write about all of this but here’s a bit of an overview of these 6 hours of music. 

Fifteen pieces of music by thirteen different composers plus one fun Fellows group piece were performed. JL Adams was the only one with two pieces played. Five — what should I call them — established composers: Steve Reich, George Crumb, Fredrick Rzewski, Louis Andreissen, as well as David Lang (BoaC Founder) and John Luther Adams. The young composers were David T. Little, Brian Petuch, Andrew Hamilton and Ken Thompson (BoaC All-Star). There were three women composers- Julia Wolfe (BoaC Founder and established composer) and Mizzy Mazzoli and Akiko Ushijima (young composers). 

It was held in the Hunter Theater. David Lang told us we could come and go as we pleased. One can only sit for so long! I missed just one concert. That said, the theater was quite full most of the time and people listened carefully. I was impressed.

This was what they played. Yummy. 

JULIA WOLFE   “Tell Me Everything

GEORGE CRUMB  “Ancient Voices of Children”

JOHN LUTHER ADAMS  “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” and “The Light Within”

DAVID LITTLE  “sweet light crude”    

AKIKO USHIJIMA “Distorting Melody”

BRIAN PETUCH  “Protosaurus”        

FREDERICK RZEWSKI  “Coming Together”

ORCHESTRA OF ORIGINAL INSTRUMENTS  “A Heard”  All the Fellows and a couple of kids

ANDREW HAMILTON  “Music for People Who Like Art”     

DAVID LANG  “ark luggage”

KEN THOMPSON  I.  “Boil”   II. “Anger Machine (fast, slow, faster)

MISSY MASSOLI  “Still Life with Avalanche”  


STEVE REICH  “Music of Mallet Instruments, Voices, Organ”

Steve Reich’s “Music for Mallets, Voices and Organ” 

The production staff was amazing as there were complete set-up changes between each piece and they did it quickly and well.  David Lang called it the Olympics of Production.

So now it’s over until next year.

I am so glad I was there – wonderful people, great music and a beautiful town.