Photo: Stephanie Berger
The 22nd edition of the Lincoln Center Festival kicked off last week, bringing it's usual surfeit of starry theater and ballet companies to the various houses of the Lincoln Center campus left otherwise vacant for the summer. Amidst these, there were a pair of musical offerings that straddled the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, and world music.
On Friday, I went to the John Jay Theater to see the Bang on a Can All Stars perform with Chinese vocalist Gong Linna, who's become something of a sensation in her home country for her charismatic stage presence and acrobatic singing. They met while the All-Stars were touring China a few years ago and, after after BOAC founders David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon sat down with Gong and her husband, composer Lao Luo, (a.k.a. Robert Zollitsch) they came up with the 12 part song cycle Cloud River Mountain. Collaboration is nothing new for the Bang on a Can trio - previous efforts include The Carbon Copy Building (1999), Lost Objects (2001), and Shelter (2005) - but it was Lao who was instrumental in integrating the unique harmonies and rhythms of Chinese music.
The songs were sung in a mix of English and Mandarin, with lyrics drawn mostly from the mythological poetry of Qu Yuan, written during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). It was difficult to follow without supertitles or any kind of house lighting to read the translations in the program, but Gong's theatrical performance - matched by her flamboyant costumes - was captivating in its own way. As for the music, it ranged from Julia's "Into the Clouds", which raged with Patti Smith-like intensity, to Michael's persistent, heavy-handed "River", to David's quiet, haunting "Girl With Mountain." For an encore, Gong performed the wild, frenetic folk song "Tan Te", which first catapulted her to stardom.
Meanwhile, David, Julia, Michael and the All Stars have all decamped to North Adams, where they'll be ensconced at Mass MoCA for the next three weeks at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, culminating in the annual Summer Marathon on August 6 with guest composer Louis Andriessen. Details available on their website. More pics here.