Written by Kaylie Melville (WA) percussion.

Over the ANAM July break, I was fortunate to travel to the United States to attend the Bang on a Can Summer Festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) as a recipient of the Australia Council’s ArtStart grant. The festival brought together thirty-nine young performers and composers from all over the world to spend three weeks living and breathing contemporary music in the remote and beautiful surrounds of North Adams.

Mass MoCA is an incredible location for a festival like this – an old factory site, which has been used as a papermill, electronics plant and steelworks in its previous lives. Now the building is home to a contemporary art museum, including an amazing retrospective of wall drawings by Sol LeWitt that range from minimalist geometric shapes through to kaleidoscopic whorls of colour. Performances throughout the galleries are encouraged, and everyone at the festival is really interested in how the music and art interact.

I was rostered into eleven different works by American born or based composers, which was a great opportunity to see a small snapshot of the contemporary music scene in the US. I really enjoyed working on new works written to be premiered at the festival by fellows Molly Joyce, Ben Daniels and Pascal le Boeuf, alongside John Cage’s Ryoanji and works Bang on a Can has recently commissioned from Anna Clyne and Paula Matthusen. A highlight was performing Alvin Lucier’s Canon for the composer himself, before watching him perform his masterpiece I am Sitting in a Room. I also thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of working on Julia Wolfe’s Lick, which has an epic drum kit part!

Something I found really interesting was that although the participants applied to come as either a performer or composer, that divide didn’t exist for most people. In the daily lunchtime recitals the Fellows would air their own works alongside performances of Boulez, Rzewski and Scelsi, with many writing new pieces during the course of the festival.

When rehearsals wrapped for the day at 4:30, everyone would race to the Tall Gallery for our second concert of the day. These concerts featured performances by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, wandering from guitarist Mark Stewart’s presentation of his astounding home-made instruments to a moving portrait of Australian composer Kate Moore’s works for cello by Ashley Bathgate. Highlights included performances of works by Bang on a Can’s founding composers, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. I was especially struck by the staged performance of Gordon’s Van Gogh, an oratorio setting of the artist’s raw and heartfelt letters to his brother, which left everyone in the audience completely speechless.

The final event of the festival is the famous Bang on a Can Summer Marathon – a six-hour musical smorgasbord of incredible music. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking for everyone involved! It was really impressive to see how smoothly things ran, and to see such a variety of music performed so well in such a short space of time. I’ve returned home hugely inspired, and can’t wait to start plotting Melbourne performances of some of the amazing music I’ve seen!


Kaylie would like to extend her thanks to those who donated to the ‘America Calling Fundraiser’, which supported Kaylie and Thea Rossen on their recent study trips to the USA.

See Kaylie next perform as part of the American Hustle concert on Tuesday 18 August at 11am
For more information visit anam.com.au

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