The theater in Stony Brook University’s Wang Center is a small area and probably one of the smallest stages an audience could ever encounter. But, like every venue, it can be transformed into a magical and unforgettable place during a performance.
That was the effect that Bang on a Can All-Stars, a contemporary ensemble, had on its audience. This ensemble of six musicians formed 22 years ago and have been performing culturally diverse new works around the world ever since. The atmosphere of their performance on Friday was something between that of a jazz club and a concert hall made for a classical quintet—or, in this case, a sextet—to play in.
Blue, purple and red lights consumed the black stage, instilling feelings of exoticism and other-worldliness. As the group came out and introduced themselves in casual clothing, they took their places on the stage and pulled out their iPads and sheet music to play a Mozart symphony.
The group contains a fantastic mix of instrumentalists, all both well-trained and musically diverse individuals with degrees from and collaborations with schools such as Yale and Juilliard. For this specific event, the ensemble used music written by Japanese composers. Their music and style of playing revealed just how strong they are as an ensemble. Each piece had a lot of energy, with each musician matching the others’ sounds and blending their harmonies and melodies to sound like one whole. The amount of build-up as the cellist looked to the clarinetist with the opening lines of pieces such as “Gamelan Cherry” written by Mamoru Fujieda and “SHU (Spells)” by Somei Satoh was both invigorating to watch and to listen. Guitarist Mark Stewart sat right in front with the electric guitar, also matching and blending his sound with the others.
Other current projects of this contemporary group include the Bang on a Can Marathon and The People’s Commissioning Fund. These events help to promote new and innovative music from today’s composers. The group is a part of the Bang on a Can ensembles, which all started their work in 1987. Other current projects of this community are summer festivals, recording projects and Asphalt Orchestra, a street band that offers mobile performances.
The ensemble’s unity during a performance combined with their ability to play interesting pieces is rare and makes Bang on a Can All-Stars an ensemble worth seeing.