The Marathon concert is the heart and soul of Bang on a Can. The annual Marathon has become one of the most diverse, open and exciting music events in the world. "Imagine Lollapalooza advised by the ghost of John Cage," Vanity Fair wrote. "There are other places to hear new contemporary music, but it is seldom offered with such a potent blend of intensity, authority, and abandon."
The Marathon is a collision of new musical styles and ideas. Marathon 2007, which marked the 20th year of this iconic New York concert event, clocked in at 27 hours and 10 minutes of continuous live music, presented for free at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place with the River to River Festival; Marathon 2014 came in at the more standard 8 hour mark.
Composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe created the first Bang on a Can Marathon concert in 1987 in order to break down the barriers that separate musical communities. Their idea was simple: instead of sorting music by style, genre, or venue it would be more powerful to group music by innovation, finding the rebels in each musical community, the restless creators not content to leave conventions unchallenged. Putting all of these fresh voices back to back on one gargantuan concert would allow the audience to experience the excitement of the innovation and breadth of vision. Their first Marathon, in the Exit Art Gallery in Soho, featured appearances by such leading lights as Steve Reich, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros and Milton Babbitt, alongside music by young composers whose musical voice had no home.
Since then the marathons have included an astounding range of revolutionary music and musicians, from John Cage to John Zorn, from minimalism's godfather Terry Riley to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, from the 30-voice Finnish shouting choir Huutajat to the hyper-intelligent brutality of Iannis Xenakis, from the political sophistication of composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski to the high energy strumming of Japan's Kazue Sawai Koto ensemble, from the eastern minimalism of Arvo Pärt to the indie-rock stylings of Kaki King, from the brainy rituals of Karlheinz Stockhausen to the turntable manipulations of artist Christian Marclay and the pulsing electronic beats of Dan Deacon, alongside the new voices of hundreds of younger and unknown composers. It is in the range of these musics that one sees how big the world really is, and how big it can be.
In the past 28 years, the festival has made its home all over New York City from Exit Art Gallery to the R.A.P.P. Arts Center, La Mama, the Kitchen, the Society For Ethical Culture, Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, PACE University, the Henry Street Settlement, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Symphony Space, to the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place. Out of town Bang on a Can Marathons have been presented annually for the past 13 years at Mass MoCA, spotlighted in the US from San Francisco to Baton Rouge, and overseas in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and more.
What links all of these marathons is the range and diversity of radical new music, the passion and intensity of the performances, and the enthusiastic response of a broad listening public. Bang on a Can believes that the marathon concert helps to build the world in which we want to live, in which new ideas have meaning and new voices are heard.