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Release: April 4, 2001


Bang on Can works were Iowa contribution to Olympic Festival

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "And the gold medal goes to . . . the Bang On A Can All-Stars and the Australian Chamber Orchestra for bringing new American music to the Sydney Olympic Festival," announced Australia's New Music Box publication. "The two ensembles collaborated on . . . 'Hard Times,' by British composer Steve Martland; 'Game Over,' by the young Australian Brett Dean; and 'Haircut,' jointly composed by Bang On A Can's artistic directors, Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. All three pieces were jointly commissioned by the ensembles, and were given world premieres last April at the University of Iowa."

To be specific, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and New York's barrier-breaking Bang on a Can All-Stars -- featuring UI alumni David Lang and Steven Schick -- premiered Iowa's contribution to the Olympic Festival on an April 8, 2000, concert that was part of Hancher Auditorium's season-spanning Millennium Festival.

The September performance at the Olympic Festival in Sydney was recorded by Broadcast ABC Classic FM, Australia's national classical music network, and was broadcast in December.

Critic David Paul Jobling, writing in Q Stage Digest the day after the Australian premieres, called the concert "Music that makes you giggle when it intends on doing so -- but it's no good for stuffed shirts who are expecting something placid, tame and directly tuneful who wouldn't be seen dead giggling in the Concert Hall of the Opera House (just isn't done). . . .

"Lots of people ran away during the evening. . . . (who) didn't get what they thought they were going to get maybe, but I enjoyed this evening's entertainment very very much. The skill and timing involved in creating music like this -- ambient, fun, vocal . . . a great phrase that was piped in at one point -- 'Television is furniture' was a delightful reminder of . . . how mundane life could be if everything was as seamless as television. Certainly not for everyone, but I thought it was great."

Of course, the Australians were especially interested in the new piece by their countryman, Brett Dean. Announcing the composition as "commissioned jointly by Olympic Arts Festival and Iowa's Hancher Auditorium," the official "Sydney Games" website of the Olympics explained, "Sir Simon Rattle, Richard Tognetti and Markus Stenz have all championed the work of Dean, who earlier this year resigned his position as violist with the Berlin Philharmonic, and has since resettled in Australia to concentrate on composition.

"'Game Over' premiered in April at the University of Iowa and is Dean's 17-minute response to what he describes as the vacuous cult of television."

Dean wrote about his piece, " 'Game Over' is about the real emptiness that lies smirking behind the facade of Day-Glo, prime-time the realisation that instant wealth isn't an answer anyway. Originally produced as part of an electronic sound installation entitled 'hundreds and thousands' for the millennium celebrations in Berlin, 'Game Over,' with its seven instrumental soloists, chamber orchestra, sampler and multi-track sound design, has evolved into a live tone poem of unrealisable desires for a flailing generation."

Dean's Hancher-premiered work also had an impact on the other side of the world, winning honorable mention in Musica Nova 2000, the International Electroacoustic Music Competition sponsored by the Society for Electroacoustic Music of the Czech Republic.

Lang, Gordon and Wolfe founded Bang on a Can in the late 1980s as a renegade New York street festival, presented in locations and with attitudes that could not be mistaken for the conventional concert setting and decorum. "For me, one of the unpleasant things about most concerts is that you feel oppressed by millions of rules of etiquette that have nothing to do with the music," says Lang, a graduate of the UI School of Music. "We wanted people to be very comfortable, as if they were sitting in their living room with their friends."

The festival, which blithely disregarded conventional musical and ideological boundaries, soon became New York's most important annual showcase for contemporary composition, mixing academic serialists and minimalists with ethnic music, rock and jazz in an atmosphere of cheerful anarchy. Eventually, the festival invaded the bastion of New York high culture, Lincoln Center.

The Bang on a Can All-Stars ensemble eventually brought together Lang and another graduate of the UI School of Music, virtuoso percussionist Steven Shick, who was for several years a mainstay of the UI Center for New Music before taking his career to Europe.

Hancher's Bang on a Can commissioning was made possible with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Hancher's season-spanning Millennium Festival was America's most extensive and ambitious performing-arts millennium celebration, featuring more than 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance. In addition to the Bang on a Can commissions, new works were created by artists including theater visionary Robert Lepage; choreographers Twyla Tharp, Ushio Amagatsu, Bill T. Jones, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Paul Taylor, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; and composers Richard Danielpour, Michael Daugherty and Paul Schoenfield.

Performances of the commissioned works have involved prominent ensembles including American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Kronos Quartet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Sankai Juku, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the Ahn Trio and the Ethos Percussion Group.

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