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Bang in the Berkshires 

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“Bang on a Can and MassMoCA working together really is a no-brainer,” says Todd Reynolds, resident violinist and instructor with Bang on a Can. “Our group is known for creating music that our founders describe as ‘falling in the cracks,’ and MassMoCA gives us the space to really stretch out as artists. It’s like two peas in a pod.”

MassMoCA’s annual Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival may be the perfect example of two cutting-edge art organizations in perfect harmony. The three-week event pairs the New York-based contemporary music collective with the North Adams, Massachusetts arts center, and turns the former Berkshire mill town into a mecca of unusual music.

From July 9 through 29, Bang on a Can takes up residence at the sprawling, former 19th-century factory complex for the event’s sixth installment. The festival offers a full schedule of performances of newly commissioned works by composers from America and abroad, as well as workshops, live improvisation, children’s events, master classes, music business seminars, free gallery recitals, and more. The month’s activities will, as usual, culminate in a six-hour marathon concert by student and faculty ensembles. This year’s featured guest artists are clarinetist and composer Don Byron and Czech avant-folk singer, violinist, and composer Iva Bittova.

“MassMoCA is a great place for Bang on a Can,” says David Lang, who co-founded the group in 1987 with fellow composers Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe with the aim of commissioning, performing, and creating innovative new music and making it accessible to wide audiences. During the past two decades, the collective has commissioned works by such masters as Terry Riley, Ornette Coleman, and Michael Nyman, and performed many of the commissions with the group’s acclaimed ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars. In that time, guest faculty has included Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, and other titans.

“[MassMoCA’s staff] is, like us, excited by the idea of using music as a way to reach into the community,” Lang explains. “And, like Bang on a Can, a big part of why MassMoCA was founded was as a way of demystifying the way artists work, of letting people actually see the creative process unfold.”

So welcoming is the atmosphere of the festival that, according to Sue Killam, MassMoCA’s managing director, audience members and musicians both have been known to plan their vacations around it. In fact, the chemistry was so perfect it enticed Reynolds to the area permanently.

“The nature of the people involved with MassMoCA is just wonderful,” says Reynolds, who moved to nearby Stamford, Vermont, from New York in 2005. “It’s a great artistic community here, and I’m honored and humbled to be part of it.”

“New music like this has the reputation of being a hard sell,” says Killam. “But once people actually hear it, they get hooked and can’t get enough.”

The Bang on a Can Summer Festival runs July 9 through 29 at MassMoCA in North Adams. (413) 664-4481; www.massmoca.org.


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