Terry Riley, Galina Ustvolskaya bookend 2018 Bang On A Can Marathon

Terry Riley, Galina Ustvolskaya bookend 2018 Bang On A Can Marathon
Bang on a Can All-Stars, © Stephanie Berger
Now in its third decade of fearless programming, the 2018 Bang On A Can Marathon will take place at NYU Skirball Center on Saturday, 12 May 2018. Amidst the kaleidoscopic fare of free new music that founders Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe have presented since 1987, the 10-hour concert will feature recent chamber music from all three composers.
The Marathon begins at 12:00PM with Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony No. 2, 'True and Eternal Bliss'. A 'scream into space' from the piano dramatically begins the Symphony, and over the course of its 20 minutes, chaos morphs into its own catharsis. Ustvolskaya's feelings of artistic and personal loneliness fueled her singular manner of expression, and, as with many of her symphonies, No. 2 requires a unique instrumentation to convey its particular world of feelings: flutes, oboes, and trumpets are scored six apiece, while a trombone, tuba, percussionist, piano soloist, and narrator complete the ensemble. This performance will feature the NYU Contemporary Ensemble, narrator Robert Osborne, and pianist David Friend, under the musical direction of Jonathan Haas.
Watch Reinbert de Leeuw and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra perform Ustvolskaya's Symphony No. 2.
Terry Riley and the Bang on a Can All-Stars will close the Marathon's final, 8:00PM set with a performance of Riley's Autodreamographical Tales, a piece commissioned by the All-Stars two decades ago. In setting his own dream diaries to original music, Riley creates a new context for his signature vocalizations, which draw upon his studies with the Indian master Pandit Pran Nath. The Tales cover a wide variety of subject matter from divine apparitions and hypnotic bus rides to zucchini and cannabis, all guided by Riley's delightful intonations.
Listen to Autodreamographical Tales on WNYC's 'New Sounds'.
Gordon's virtuosic Sonatra will be performed by pianist Vicky Chow, who describes it as 'by far the most challenging piece of music I've ever worked on', and has just released the world premiere recording on Cantaloupe Music. In his original program notes for Sonatra, the composer Michael Gordon writes that he conceived of the piece as a sideways tribute to Frank Sinatra, but with the sonata form as an equal and opposite force that tugs at the music from within.
'I grew up playing, or mis-playing, the piano', he notes. 'When I started writing Sonatra, I decided that since I would probably only ever write one piano piece in my entire life, I wanted to use all the keys on the piano, and use them often. I constructed long chains or links of major and minor thirds that ceaselessly wind their way up and down the piano. Eventually they start cascading and intersperse with glissandos half the length of the keyboard, sounding to me like the performer has at least four hands'.
Listen to Sonatra on Bandcamp. | Read a review of Sonatra in The New Yorker
Julia Wolfe's Blue Dress is a new string quartet arrangement of her 2010 work for violin and electronics With a Blue Dress On. Commissioned and performed by ETHEL, the quartet conjures Wolfe's lifelong interest in American Folk Music, and the added presence of stomps and yells from the players give Blue Dress an edge of authenticity.
Writes the composer in a program note: 'My love affair with American folk music began in the 1980s when I lived, studied, and worked in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There I began to play mountain dulcimer, sing, try out the bones. The folk scene was and still is very rich in Ann Arbor ā€” and I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture. As I veered off into more experimental ideas in music the folk threads remained ā€” references in such titles as Four Marys (my first string quartet), Cruel Sister (for string orchestra), and most recently Steel Hammer (an evening-length art ballad for trio mediaeval and the Bang on a Can All-Stars). In [Blue Dress], the folk roots come to the fore with fiddling licks, fragments of song, and bows deep into the string. I was inspired by a plaintive field-recording of a woman singing "Pretty little girl with a blue dress on". Her tone was rough and her rhythm irregular. The timing and tempos, or implied tempos, in the piece play on this irregularity and fluctuation ā€” placing folk-like fragments into a kind of hyper state'.
Watch Sarah Goldfeather play With A Blue Dress On at TEDxMet.
Composed by David Lang, the day was commissioned in 2016 by cellist Maya Beiser as a 'prequel' to world to come (2003), which Lang also wrote for Beiser in response to the tragic events of 9/11. Both pieces are meditations on life, but from very different perspectives.
'the day looks at ways we review our lives', Lang explains, 'exploring remembered moments as a chronicle of a life'. Lang sourced the text from the internet by searching for the phrase 'I remember the day that Iā€¦', and then cut and compiled lyrics based on his findings. The spoken-word accompaniment by actor Kate Valk lends an emotional charge to Beiser's poignant cello lines, which gradually build in multi-tracked layers to emulate a small string ensemble.
Listen to the day on Bandcamp.
This is a free event. Tickets can be picked up at the NYU Box Office (566 LaGuardia Pl) starting at 10:00 a.m. on May 13th (2 hours prior to event). Tickets will be distributed on first-come, first-served basis; once the venue has reached capacity, there will be a standby line as seats become available throughout the duration of the event.

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