Our dear friend Robert Black. 1956-2023

No-one on the planet could make the double bass sing, dance, sound like a drum, spin like a top, like Robert Black.  And no one dedicated his life to the new with as much invention, musicality and passion.  We are all blessed to have been his friends.

Michael met Robert first and introduced us to him.  Michael met him at the North American New Music Festival in Buffalo in 1985. Robert had long hair all the way to his waist, was not yet 30 years old and was already famous in the world of contemporary classical music. In 1985 no-one wanted to play new music, and new music is all that Robert wanted to play. He had already commissioned and worked with almost everyone. Michael asked him if he would look at the bass part he had written in a chamber work that had a tricky passage. Michael had written some low notes that leaped up to high harmonic double stops. Robert looked at the part and said something like: I don’t think that’s doable. Let me try. He proceeded to nail the leap up, and the double stop harmonics rang through the room, after which Robert produced one of his amazing smiles: I guess that is possible.

When we started Bang on a Can with a 12 hour marathon concert in 1987, we invited Robert to play. He performed 4 solo pieces: Theraps, which he had worked on with composer Iannis Xenakis; Hartt School of Music Professor James Sellers’ Get Hot or Get Out; Jacob Druckman’s Valentine; and Tom Johnson’s Failing. One of the great secrets about Robert is that he is not only a virtuoso, but he is a comic genius as well. His performance of Theraps and Valentine showed off all of his chops. Get Hot or Get Out showed that Robert could rock on the Electric Bass Guitar, and his performance of Failing had the audience roaring with laughter.

A few years later, in the early 1990s, we were asked, as Bang on a Can, to travel to Minneapolis and give a concert there. We asked Robert to join a few of the other outstanding performers we had been working with in forming an ensemble, which was called the Bang on a Can All-Stars. At that time, there were few if any precedents for this kind of amplified chamber ensemble with electric guitar. We didn’t realize then that 30+ years later, with a countless number of tours worldwide, including performances in China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Mexico and all over the United States and Europe, we would still be making music together.

Here are just a few highlights that we remember, vividly. The Bang on a Can All-Stars’ first performance at the South Bank Centre in London, in which each member of the group performed a solo piece – Robert played Failing. An amazing solo bass concert of Robert’s own music and improvisations in an historic castle in Germany, as part of a Bang on a Can residency. A five-concert residency at the Adelaide Festival in Australia, on the cusp of Robert’s 40th birthday. A countless number of Marathon concerts, standing backstage with Robert, exchanging light banter, and then seeing him walk on stage and be Robert, over and over again. The commitment to livestreaming during the pandemic that compelled Robert to create his First Fridays series, in which Robert gave an online concert every month, with entirely new repertoire in each episode and increasingly sophisticated lighting and visual design. And just a few months ago, with the entire Bang on a Can collective in Bogota, Columbia, where, between sets, we were able to sit backstage with Robert, hearing the excitement in his voice as he talked about his latest projects with Philip Glass, Eve Beglarian and John Luther Adams.

Robert Black was magic – we will miss him.

-Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe

Mark Stewart, from the Bang on a Can All-Stars:

After 30 years on the bandstand with Robert I am still in awe of him.

His artistry and humanity were commensurate, and of the highest caliber.

Among so many qualities he was deeply kind, often playful, gently yet fiercely devoted to the composer and his colleagues onstage, generous and brilliant with his mirth and, perhaps rarest and most precious, a deep listener. He could always respond accurately and beautifully to what was going on, be it music or a conversation. His humility was real because his wisdom came from listening. In rehearsal when he spoke he had the floor.

Robert taught us all that integrity is a dish best served sotto voce.

As an instrumentalist he carried a very big stick: the late 19th century French amber hued bass he named “Simone.” We all heard their partnership on stage but if you never saw Robert dance with Simone, go find some footage. Robert was as celebrated in his dance world as he was in his sound world.

As a chamber musician he was priceless. I never looked to my left, (for a phrase, a groove, a crescendo, a moment, etc. ad infinitum…) without being greeted by his return gaze, his “I’m in!” already fully engaged in the task at hand. The task we would then greet together, shape together, revel in…together.

Robert visited me last in a dream. And his singular wit and wisdom were present.

It was a big gathering of lots of folks and we were about to sit down to eat.

Someone said, “let’s have the cake!”

I turned to Robert and said, “shouldn’t we eat the real food first?”

Robert smiled and said, “it’s always a good time for cake.”

Bang on a Can and the Jewish Museum on the Museum Mile – Dingonek Street Band – June 13

On June 13, join Bang on a Can, the Jewish Museum, and their Museum Mile neighbors for the 45th Annual Museum Mile Festival. Festival attendees can walk the Mile on Fifth Avenue between 82nd Street and 110th Street while visiting eight of New York City’s finest cultural institutions, all of which are free and open to the public from 6 to 9 pm.

Dingonek Street Band will perform three sets (at 6 pm, 7 pm, and 8 pm) outside the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue.

Dingonek Street Band is a Brooklyn-based brass band dedicated to human culture and sonic adventure. Built on the celebratory energy and raw spontaneity of the second-line brass band tradition, Dingonek has created a funky, high-energy party music all its own by absorbing and reworking elements of Afrobeat, Ethio-jazz, punk rock, free jazz, and Balkan brass music.

More info

Sarah Serpa with Erik Friedlander and Ingrid Laubrock at the Jewish Museum, May 18

Bang on a Can and the Jewish Museum present Sarah Serpa with Erik Friedlander and Ingrid Laubrock

Thursday, May 18, 2023 – 7:30pm

Sara Serpa’s distinctive new trio presents a contemporary approach in writing for the voice, challenging traditional roles and highlighting pristine textures in jazz and improvisational music. Never losing track of the common bond that brings these musicians together, Serpa features two extremely innovative improvisers, Erik Friedlander and Ingrid Luabrock, who have a precise sound and particular musical personalities. Collectively, they create a detailed and exposed portrait of her musical world, featuring wordless compositions and texts by Virginia Woolf, Luce Irigaray and Ruy Bello in concert echoing the movement of people and art across borders central to the museum’s current exhibition The Sassoons.

More info and tickets

photo by John Rogers

Julia Wolfe – May 25-27 Her Story – June 1-3 unEarth (world premiere)

Julia Wolfe is on a roll! 2 major performances are coming right up.

May 25-27, Her Story comes to San Francisco

Her Story, performed by the Lorelei Ensemble and the SF Symphony captures the passion and perseverance of women who have led the fight for representation and gender equality. A 40-minute theatrical experience, the piece is the latest in a series of compositions by Wolfe that highlights monumental and turbulent moments in American history.

Her Story – more info and tickets

June 1-3, the NYPhil premieres Julia’s new work unEarth

unEarth “digs deep into the stories and science of our planet — looking at forced migrations, adaptations, species land loss, and changing seas … singing our fears and hoping for a way forward.”

unEarth – more info and tickets

Thank you for coming to Long Play!

The 2023 Long Play festival was an amazing ride! We are so grateful to our artists, audiences, venue partners, and our whole staff and crew for coming together on an adventurous musical weekend in Brooklyn! The New York Times named it “the most important classical music festival in New York City.” Read the full article.

Mark your calendars for Long Play 2024! May 2-5.

Long Play Festival! May 5-7, 2023

Bang on a Can announces the 2nd year of Long Play, a three-day destination music festival, presented from Friday, May 5 through Sunday, May 7, 2023. Featuring 50+ concerts, Long Play also showcases a dense network of inventive music venues in Brooklyn – with performances at Pioneer Works, Roulette, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Public Records, Littlefield, BRIC, Mark Morris Dance Center, The Center for Fiction, plus outdoor events and more. A limited number of 3-day festival passes are on sale now at www.longplayfestival.org including MEMORY GAME, a special opening-night concert featuring Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble with the electric Bang on a Can All-Stars, doubling as an 80th Birthday Bash (co-presented with The Town Hall at Pioneer Works)!

Some featured artists in the 2023 lineup include Art Ensemble of Chicago, Philip Glass Ensemble, Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn, Mount Eerie, Tyshawn Sorey, and many others.

Bang on a Can’s Co-Founders and Artistic Directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, say of Long Play:

Music, right now!  What is it, you might ask?  You know, we can’t tell you!  And that is a good thing.  There is so much music happening that no one can pin it all down.  Loud music, soft music. Delicate music, rugged music. Written down music, improvised music.  Music for speeding up and music for slowing down. All around the world, musicians are innovating wildly, creating revolutionary sounds and experiences that no one could have imagined without them. And where is all this happening, you might ask?  That we can answer!  In Brooklyn, crossroads of the world, where musicians and audiences and peoples and sounds from everywhere come together. You can see and hear them all, on LONG PLAY.

More info

Julia Wolfe

Julia Wolfe’s Her Story with the Boston Symphony March 16-18

Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Lorelei Ensemble in Julia Wolfe’s Her Story, a new work that captures the passion and perseverance of women who have led the fight for representation and gender equality. A 40-minute theatrical experience, the piece is the latest in a series of compositions by Wolfe that highlights monumental and turbulent moments in American history.

Performance dates and times:

More info and tickets

Bang on a Can honors Robert Black, March 9 at the Hartt School

The Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with Bang on a Can’s artistic directors and founders, Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, are honored to celebrate the work of bassist Robert Black, a founding member of the All-Stars, who is retiring from his University of Hartford, Hartt School of Music, faculty position after 29 years!


  • David Lang – Cheating Lying Stealing
  • Michael Gordon – I Buried Paul
  • Julia Wolfe – Believing
  • George Lewis – Float, Sting
  • Meredith Monk – Spaceship
  • Philip Glass – Closing
  • Thurston Moore – Stroking Piece #1

More info and tickets

photo of Robert by Stephanie Berger

Applications for the 2023 Media Workshop at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival are due Apr 11!

Bang on a Can Media Workshop at MASS MoCA

An exploration of contemporary music criticism and journalism

July 22 – 30, 2023

More info and online application

Applications due April 11!
There is no application fee.

“One of the most meaningful and impactful experiences of my writing career thus far.”  – Maggie Molloy, workshop participant

Bang on a Can, our special guest faculty John Schaefer and Terrance McKnight, and 6 writers in the early stages of their careers will gather at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, MA) to explore the role of criticism and journalism in today’s dynamic contemporary music scene.

The aim of the workshop is to help writers generate a vocabulary, syntax, and context that is most useful for readers/ listeners and to make modern music and criticism more accessible, welcoming, and exciting to all audiences.

The workshop will take place during the final week of the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA (July 22-30, 2023) — a residency and festival for composers and performers (12 faculty, 21 performers, and 9 composers) and will include daily meetings with faculty and daily writing assignments. Additionally, participants will be “embedded” in the festival activities, attending rehearsals, workshops, and performances, enabling more insights into the process of bringing music to the stage.

More info and online application

Photo of John Schaefer by @thesundncekid for On Air Fest
Photo of Terrance McKnight by Julie Yarbrough Photography

Bang on a Can All-Stars, Live

Bang on a Can in Colombia – Feb 18-25

Bang on a Can brings South America their first ever Bang on a Can Marathon along with a week full of workshops, conferences, and performances in Medellín and Bogotá, Colombia!

Saturday Feb 18:  Bang on a Can All-Stars perform “Classics” in Medellin. More info.

Monday Feb 20: Workshop: Young Composer Reading and Bang on a Can lecture/demonstration in Bogotá – with Colombian composers Andrés Felipe Poveda, Juan Manuel Jaramillo, Jesús Buendia Puyo.  More info

Wednesday Feb 22:  Bang on a Can All-Stars perform “Classics” in Bogotá, including a pre-concert talk with Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Betto Arcos. More info

Thursday Feb 23: Bang on a Can All-Stars perform “Road Trip” in Bogotá including a pre-concert talk with Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Betto Arcos. More info

Friday Feb 24: Conference: “Bang on a Can: in search of other music” – The founding composers of Bang on a Can will talk about how their music connects with other communities, other instruments and other stories. More info

Saturday Feb 25: Bang on a Can Marathon – the first ever in South America! The Marathon in Bogotá will feature the Bang on a Can All-Stars alongside an incredibly diverse and amazing lineup of Colombian composers and performers. The concert features many different ensembles and soloists from different musical and cultural backgrounds including classical, jazz, and traditional Colombian and American traditions. More info