Of the three Bang on a Can founder composers, David Lang’s music has always been the glassiest, the sparest, and for some listeners the most precious. In recent years, his aesthetic has become leaner still, paring down already simple material to gaunt extremes in something approaching neo-plainchant. The national anthems (note the lower case; nothing vainglorious here ) takes fragments of text from the anthems of all 193 United Nations member states and unfolds at speaking speed, with plenty of room for breaths between phrases and plenty of clarity to the words. It has the feel of sad and eerie intoning. The Los Angeles choir clinches the right sound for Lang – unflinching, spellbound – while the Calder Quartet gives sleek accompaniment. Also on the disc is a new choral version of Lang’s little match girl passion, the piece originally for four voices that won him the Pulitzer prize in 2008 and which, in the mouths of many, becomes a sort of collective prayer in the congregational tradition of Bach’s chorales.
As one-third of the composer-collective Bang on a Can, David Lang is something of a genial father figure of the indie-classical scene. Talk to any of the world's main players and you're likely to hear them tell you about their life-changing stint in Bang on a Can's summer festival, which has acted as a sort of feeder school and incubator for the group's try-anything mentality. Lang's music has undergone many stylistic shifts over the years: In the 80s, he wrote bristlier stuff, but in the last decade or so, he's shifted quietly into a more pensive register. The Little Match Girl Passion, his 2008 work that won him a Pulitzer, was written for only four voices and some hand bells. This Was Written By Hand, his most recent recording, is a collection of short solo piano works played by the British pianist Andrew Zolinsky. The album holds the same, sustained melancholy mood: thoughtful, searching, elegiac, minimalist. Lang's way with repetitive phrasing doesn't feel like that of minimalists like Glass or Reich's, though.
David Lang's "love fail" is a meditation on the timelessness of love that weaves together details from medieval retellings of the story of Tristan and Isolde with stories from more modern sources. The recording also spotlights the vocal quartet Anonymous 4, whose commitment to medieval music and historical scholarship has been acclaimed worldwide.
In 2012, David Lang spent so much time racking up awards — from Carnegie Hall’s 2013-14 Debs Composer’s Chair to Musical America’s Composer of the Year — that it’s a wonder he was able to wrangle a project of the size and scope of death speaks. Commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Stanford Lively Arts to go on a program with his piece the little match girl passion, death speaks draws its initial inspiration from the work of Schubert — specifically the song “Death and the Maiden.”
David Lang's "the little match girl passion," for vocal quartet doubling on percussion instruments, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. It's a strong, striking piece with a surprisingly potent emotional punch. Part of its effectiveness derives from the story itself, which is so achingly poignant that it can hardly fail to raise a lump in the throat. The text is primarily compiled from the story by Hans Christian Andersen and from familiar sections from Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," which sound fresh and new in English translation.
"The 60 fingers and multiple keyboards ofPiano Circushave come a long way since they formed in 1989 …the six players alternate between two grand pianos, four sampling keyboards and a spinet, transform the piano sounds in various ways, play a variety of conventional and unconventional percussion and incorporate a variety of mechanical and natural sounds. Totally compelling"This is a showcase album for the many and varied talents of those who made several recordings for ARGO during the 1990s, which includes David Lang's Face So Pale and Kevin Volans' Kneeling Dance, as well as one of the "classics" of American minimalism—Steve Reich's Four Organs. Three Dances by Robert Moran were written especially for Piano Circus.—The Guardian, October 2001
"Extraordinary to behold ….six pairs of eyes, watching, listening, timing each move to the split second. Breathtaking."—The Times, March 2002
The Bang on a Can All-Stars emerged from the scruffy environs of downtown New York playing a new kind of music, with a new kind of energy, for a new kind of audience.