February 7, 2011 — The phrase "bang on a can" may not evoke the sounds of thoughtful, beautiful music, but that is exactly what the classical music group with the same name creates.
An amplified chamber orchestra based in New York City, Bang on a Can All-Stars will bring its unusual brand of contemporary classical music to Charlottesville Feb. 17 through 19 as part of its three-day residency sponsored by the University of Virginia Arts Board.
"They're doing music that is really intelligent, but also fun and energetic," said Sarah O'Halloran, a second-year Ph.D. student in music composition in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. O'Halloran is also a member of the Arts Board, a student-run group whose mission is to feature and present an outstanding artist, attraction, performance or exhibition each year in a three-year rotation of music, visual arts and drama.
In spring 1988, the Board of Visitors established funding for the Arts Board through a student comprehensive fee of $1 per full-time student per semester. The Arts Board's entire budget – including the $56,000 allotted for the spring residency program – is derived from this fee.
"It's kind of like the best dollar you ever spent," O'Halloran said.
This year, the Arts Board's focus is music, and it's being led by fourth-year College student Lynne Kolodinsky, a double major in music and political philosophy, policy and law, and graduate music student Emily Gale.
After being approached by the McIntire Department of Music to chair the Arts Board, Kolodinsky and Gale selected their 11 fellow board members.
"We picked a pretty diverse group," Kolodinsky said, adding that she and Gale wanted to involve students with different educational backgrounds and many interests to make the project universally appealing.
In filling the spring residency, Kolodinsky said the board started out with nearly 20 different options for performers. Some were eliminated fairly early in the process, due to either scheduling or budgetary constraints. In the end, Bang on a Can All-Stars stood out because its music is both fun and disciplined.
Formed in 1987 by American composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang on a Can All-Stars is a six-person group featuring a cello, double bass, electric guitar, percussion, clarinet and piano.
"They're some of the most versatile musicians you can find," O'Halloran said, adding that group members have toured with famous rock musicians, including Bob Dylan.
Prior to the band's arrival, the Arts Board, in collaboration with the Virginia Film Festival, will hold a screening of Frank Shaffer's 2009 documentary, "In the Ocean." The film is a tribute to Brian Eno's 1978 album "Music For Airports"; the Bang on a Can All-Stars perform the score. The event will be held in Newcomb Theater on Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. and will feature a short, pre-screening talk delivered by Grace Hale, an associate history professor in the College.
"It's a very accessible film," O'Halloran said.
Shortly after their arrival on Feb. 17, members of Bang on a Can All-Stars will host master classes for selected music students. In each small group session, a band member will hear students perform a couple of pieces, and give individual feedback and suggestions in front of the class, so that "everyone can learn," Kolodinsky explained. While the students have already been selected, she said that visitors are welcome and encouraged to observe.
On Friday morning, musicians will visit U.Va. classrooms in pairs to expose as many students as possible to Bang on a Can's musical mission.
Bang on a Can All-Stars is perhaps best known for its annual 24-hour marathon concerts, held in a variety of venues in several different countries, O'Halloran said. In honor of the band's arrival, the Arts Board has coordinated a six-hour, mini-marathon concert. While Bang on a Can All-Stars will not perform at this particular event, Kolodinksy said it will feature other eclectic local musicians like Taiwanese surf rock band Dzian! as well as African-inspired drummers and jazz performers.
"We thought it was a really fun idea in terms of bringing the community together," O'Halloran said. "We wanted this to be Charlottesville-focused, not just U.Va."
The residency will culminate on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Downtown Mall's Jefferson Theater with a free concert that is open to the public. "This is not an Old Cabell Hall kind of group," Kolodinsky said.
The show will be mostly standing, but there will be some seats available, as well as a handicapped-accessible area.
"Their shows are really good for people who want to try something new, and definitely have a good time while they are there," O' Halloran said.
While the Jefferson Theater features a bar, no alcohol will be served at the event so that all ages are able to attend.
All of Bang on a Can All-Stars' events are free and open to the public. For information, visit www.uvaartsboard.org.