Thursday, October 15, 2009

Forging New Music

The 7th Beijing Music Festival is underway and tonight we went to check out the New York-based contemporary music group Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Poly Theater.

While it wasn't packed, it was a decent turnout.

The traveling group was made up of six musicians: Ashley Bathgate on cello; Robert Black playing bass; David Cossin on drums and percussion; Mark Stewart playing guitars; Evan Ziporyn on clarinet and Vicky Chow at the piano.

On the sparse stage they came out in casual wear and then promptly began a piece that had a mixture speaking in unintelligible words with at times dischordant tunes, noises and even playing instruments differently. The pianist strummed the strings of the piano and the cellist slapped his hands all over his cello.
And after they were finished did they explain it was piece by Tan Dun called Concert for Six
Then after some explanation, they played four pieces by Conolon Nancarrow who had written piano pieces that were impossible for humans to play -- and this was in the 1930s! The Four Piano Studies were adapted for the six musicians and at times there were melodies in there, but were lost and a new one started again, or one rhythm established, but then changed to another, making it hard for me to follow along.
The last two pieces were by the founders of Bang on a Can, husband and wife composers, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. These were inspired by Beatles songs with Believing and I Buried Paul, which takes off where Strawberry Fields ends.
It was hard to tell if the Beijing audience could understand what was going on. In all the concert goers were polite, but did they understand? To be honest, as a classically-trained musician, I could see they were trying to create new sounds and a new way of presenting music, but it was hard for me to appreciate and comprehend what was going on. Granted there were some interesting sounds that they created individually or as a group, but on the whole it was not something I enjoyed listening to.
Nevertheless, it was an eye opener to see what contemporary music is trying to do.

1 comment:

ChopSuey said...

I dragged hubb to see a piece called "Space as the instrument" at Massey Hall. Four wires were hung over the orchestra and the mid-balcony and the audience sat on the stage to listen to the resulting "music." K simply didn't get it and grumbled about standing for an hour to get in. I am still psyched that I got to stand on the stage at Massey Hall. Period.