Full disclosure: I am no longer actually at Bang on a Can Summer Festival at MASS MoCA. I returned to The City that Breeds yesterday after an exhilarating three weeks in North Adams, Massachusetts. Therefore, these wrap-up posts are more like Dispatches “About” Bang on a Can rather than Dispatches “From” Bang on a Can.
Before I could even think to click my ruby-red slippers, the last week of the festival flew right by. With all the rehearsals, coachings, performances, requisite jamming at the Mohawk, and more – I failed to write it all down! Alas, I am determined to share the wonderful performing experiences I had this week with you. Beginning with Monday seems appropriate…
July 23rd was the BoaC Composer Fellow performance in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA. I was thrilled to première works by three wonderful and diverse composers: Samuel Judson Crawford, Mike Perdue, and Yotam Haber.
Sam Crawford‘s Like a Hopper Painting was inspired by the work of realist painter Edward Hopper who is most well-known for his oil paintings depicting American life. Hopper was particularly interested in depicting people — often solitary women — interacting with their daily environment. In Crawford’s notes to the players he asks the mezzo to “think of yourself as every woman in Edward Hopper’s painting – create a myriad of moods with your tone.” In one of our working sessions, I shared with Sam that my favorite Hopper has always been Automat because it has been hanging in the Des Moines Art Center as long as I can remember and was the first Hopper I ever encountered and I chose that feeling to convey in the piece. Crawford sees his music as “deceptively simple” because although it looks straight-forward on the page it requires the performers to create a lot of depth with their tone.
When Mike Perdue introduced his piece, Hearsay, to the ensemble he told us that he often emails back and forth with a friend in law school. This friend will send him snippets of legalese that he finds particularly interesting. After Perdue found out that he would be writing a piece for the Bang on a Can Summer Festival his friend emailed him the text from the hearsay exceptions in the Federal Rules of Evidence the next day and Perdue decided he would use it for his piece.
The following are not excluded by the rule against hearsay, regardless of whether the declarant is available as a witness:
(1) Present Sense Impression. A statement describing or explaining an event or condition, made while or immediately after the declarant perceived it.
(2) Excited Utterance. A statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement that it caused.
(3) Then-Existing Mental, Emotional, or Physical Condition. A statement of the declarant’s then-existing state of mind (such as motive, intent, or plan) or emotional, sensory, or physical condition (such as mental feeling, pain, or bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the validity or terms of the declarant’s will.
The first two movements of Perdue’s piece are written with music notation for each instrument; whereas the third movement is simply a set of seven text instructions for the whole ensemble. Perdue has a fascinating sense of humor in his music. In addition to singing, I was asked to play the woodblock “ironically”. This topic could be expanded into a whole separate post about new music requiring singers to always play some sort of percussion instrument. However, I digress. His humor was especially evident in the first instruction of the third movement in which he asks the players to, “play the spoken rhythm of the [third statement] on your instrument. Use any collection of pitches in any range as long as it mimics the natural rhythms and dynamics of the spoken text. Play each syllable secco and percussive, but do not attempt to be precisely in unison as an ensemble.” While elaborating on his instructions in rehearsal he said, “it should be like when large groups say the Pledge of Allegiance or prayers at church. There’s always someone who isn’t exactly with everyone else; but you can tell that they are all speaking the same text.”
Finally, we finished our set of the concert premiering Yotam Haber’s Young Minds at Play. When I first received his piece with my packet of music from BoaC, I’m sure my eyes widened to the size of saucers. Not sure what to make of the numerous trills (including Monteverdi trills for you early music fans…), two octave leaps, growls, and many meter changes, I knew that our ensemble would spend a fair amount of rehearsal time figuring it out. Haber used a text from an anonymous 4-year old boy from the article “Young Minds at Play by Maurice Sendak and Brian Sutton-Smith” – Harpers Magazine, April, 1978.
Once upon a time the once upon a time
Ate the once upon a time
Which ate the once upon a time
And then the once upon a time which
Ate the once upon a time ate
The Princess once upon a time with the King
And then the once upon a time died.
Then the end ate the end
Then the end died
Then the end died
Then the end died
Then the end died
And then the end, the end, the end died
The end with a the end
Haber was struck by the notion that this 4-year old knew all the constructs of the traditional fairy-tale (you have to say “once upon a time” and “the end” and there must be a Princess and a King); yet, didn’t have all of the language to make a full story. There are moments of the piece that are eerie and haunting, moments that are elegiac and beautiful, and even moments that are plain scary. It was quite a vehicle for me as a singer to explore its many facets. I found it equally important to perform the seriously challenging music without letting the audience lose their child-like state of wonder and enchantment.
However challenging, our ensemble worked like pros and gave intense, humorous, and moving performances of the three composer pieces. I would definitely look for any opportunity to perform their music again in the near future. (Hint, hint, singers!) There are so many more performances to write about from my last week at Bang on a Can. On to the next!
I was so proud to share the stage with my fellow ensemble members:
oboe – Stuart Breczinski
piano – Jack Dettling
harp – Jennifer R. Ellis
electric guitar – Travis Andrews
cello – Alyson Berger
cello – Maria Hadge
bass – Gregg August
percussion – Matthew Horsley
percussion – Alibek Kabdurahmanov
percussion – Ben Phelps
If you have a chance to check out their upcoming performances, please do! You will not be disappointed.