Review of Bang on a Can All-Stars and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street performing Anthracite Fields at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL May 30, 31

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Review of Bang on a Can All-Stars and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street performing Anthracite Fields at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL May 30, 31

By: Tom Partington

For years, the visual art world has presented “biennials” – events that, for better or worse, have served as a window into the state of current artistic trends and expressions. Now the musical world gets it’s showcase. 2014 marks the first year of the New York Philharmonic Biennial, 13 programs over 11 days dedicated to contemporary art music, spanning a wide range of formats, forms, styles and venues.
Friday’s concert at Avery Fisher hall could have summed up the concept in one evening. The program featured two works by two composers, Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe, and Dreamhouse by Steven Mackey. Both composers write in a disinctly American style, yet they draw from and reference a enormously wide and diverse range of styles.  The effect can be odd at first – simultaneously nostalgic and bleeding edge; grounded and discomforting; abstract and obvious. It all makes sense as the pieces progress and the greater whole emerges.
The first piece, Anthracite Fields was performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with a chorus. This touching multi-media oratorio was inspired by Pennsylvania’s coal country, near where she grew up. Anthracite Fields approaches Pennsylvania coal-mining culture from five viewpoints: coal miners; the young “breaker boys” who worked aboveground; the labor movement, the contrasting flower gardens, and the appliances fueled by coal power.
The accompanying projections complemented the powerful sound washing over the audience as the piece began while the names of miners were recited.  The history and impact of the mining life in Scranton coal country unfolded masterfully as the images, text, impressions, and oral history intertwined with the music to create an honest multi-dimensional view.
Dreamhouse in particular seemed to be a piece that could only have been conceived in the age of multi-track recording and access to an endless variety of musical styles.  Augmenting the New York Philharmonic was a quartet of electric guitars were placed front and center, and a quartet of amplified singers were also added to the mix.  The orchestra was undoubtedly slightly pushed out of it’s comfort zone with this complex piece that occasionally referenced pop music, used amplification, drum set, and required enormous stylistic leaps.
The composer introduced the piece as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks. The piece doesn’t have a traditional narrative arc, but its texts all have to do with the idea of creating a house “where you can live, where you’ll be safe.” – the catchy repeated phrase in the ecstatic final movement that may be one of the few contemporary works pieces that leaves the audience humming.
These two pieces represent a world of contemporary music that is truly alive- honest, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful.






Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields Receives its New York Premiere at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL on May 30, 31

Julia Wolfe’s newest work, Anthracite Fields, explores coal-mining life and the fields of central Pennsylvania near her hometown. The composer draws from oral histories, interviews, speeches, geographic descriptions, local rhymes, and coal advertisements in creating a unique oratorio that provides an intimate look at a particular slice of American life. The multi-media live performance features scenography and projections by Jeff Sugg.


Named after the technical term for the purest form of coal, anthracite, Anthracite Fields was written after Wolfe did extensive research about the industry. She found an incredible, complex world containing bitter political battles, unique tools and specialties, and deep cultural expressions. She writes, “In some ways the piece is a return to my small town Pennsylvania roots. In looking north – the left turn onto route 309, the road-rarely-taken – I delved into a local history. My aim is to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation and to reveal a bit about who we are as American workers.”

Anthracite Fields received its world premiere on April 26 at the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, who commissioned the piece in celebration of their 140th season.

On May 30 and 31, the Bang on a Can All-Stars and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street will perform Anthracite Fields at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL.


Anthracite Fields was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. Additional support was made possible through the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Alan Harler New Ventures Fund; The Presser Foundation; The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage; the National Endowment for the Arts; The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia; and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.





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Co-presented by River To River Festival, Arts Brookfield and Bang on a Can
Lead support is provided by ASCAP, in celebration of its 100 years of protecting, supporting and fostering the work of composers worldwide


Sunday, June 22, 2014 from 2pm-10pm
8 hours of FREE Live Music!


Brookfield Place, Winter Garden | 220 Vesey Street, NYC
Admission: FREE


Bang on a Can Marathon information: 718.852.7755 or
Full Festival Line-Up:


FEATURING MUSIC by Louis Andriessen, Armando Bayolo, Jherek Bischoff, Carlos Carrillo, Bryce Dessner, Julius Eastman & Jace Clayton, Michael Gordon, Judd Greenstein, Brooks Frederickson, Molly Joyce, David Lang, Paula Matthusen, Marc Mellits, Meredith Monk, Andrew Norman, Caroline Shaw, JG Thirlwell, and Julia Wolfe


FEATURING PERFORMANCES by Adrianna Mateo, Anonymous 4, Bang on a Can All-Stars & friends, Bearthoven, Contemporaneous, Dawn of Midi, Great Noise Ensemble, Jace Clayton (aka DJ/rupture) & friends, Jherek Bischoff, Mantra Percussion, Meredith Monk & Theo Bleckmann, Roomful of Teeth, and So Percussion


PLUS Bang on a Can’s social engagement wing Found Sound Nation hosts its Street Studio – a mobile recording studio equipped for passersby and Marathon musicians alike to spontaneously create and record original music!



New York, NY (May 27, 2014) — On Sunday, June 22, from 2pm to 10pm, Bang on a Can returns to downtown Manhattan for its annual Bang on a Can Marathon, FREE for the public at Brookfield Place Winter Garden (220 Vesey Street), presented by River To River® Festival, Arts Brookfield, and Bang on a Can. The Marathon is part of the opening weekend of the 13th River To River Festival, kicking off the 11-day celebration of free music, dance, film, and arts events. Full schedule included below.


Bang on a Can started as a one day Marathon concert (on Mother’s Day in 1987 in a SoHo art gallery) and has grown into a multi-faceted performing arts organization with a broad range of year-round international activities. The New York Times reports, “A quarter-century later their impact has been profound and pervasive. The current universe of do-it-yourself concert series, genre-flouting festivals, composer-owned record labels and amplified, electric-guitar-driven compositional idioms would probably not exist without their pioneering example. The Bang on a Can Marathon, the organization’s sprawling, exuberant annual mixtape love letter to its many admirers, has been widely emulated…” The Village Voice recounted, “[one could] enjoy a world made a bit more habitable – something like an authentically felt home – thanks to all manner of cultural practices that get dissed out in the mainstream.”


This year, the annual super-mix of boundary-busting music from around the corner and around the globe features eight hours of rare performances by some of the most innovative, pioneering musicians of our time side-by-side with some of today’s newest exciting young artists.


The electric Bang on a Can All-Stars perform Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe’s sonic wall of sound, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, released to critical acclaim on Cantaloupe Music in 2012; JG Thirlwell’s cinematic Anabiosis, commissioned for the All-Stars in 2005 through the Bang on a Can Peoples’ Commissioning Fund (PCF); plus Paula Matthusen’s 2013 PCF commission ontology of an echo, which incorporates field recordings made in the Old Croton Aqueduct in the Bronx. Joined on stage by alumni performers of the Bang on a Can Summer Festival (Banglewood), the All-Stars will take on Louis Andriessen’s 1977 signature work, Hoketus, honoring the composer’s 75th birthday this June.


Pioneering composer and performer Meredith Monk and longtime collaborator Theo Bleckmann will perform selections from Monk’s iconic eighth album, Facing North, released in 1992 on ECM. The all-female a cappella quartet Anonymous 4 presents selections from Bang on a Can co-founder David Lang’s love fail, celebrating the new CD release on Cantaloupe Music. Lang’s love fail, which premiered at BAM in 2012, is a meditation on the timelessness of love that weaves together details from mediaeval retellings of the story of Tristan and Isolde.

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