On repeat: prominent NYC music festival features SOU percussion ensembles
Southern Oregon University’s percussion ensembles received a special invitation two years ago to perform at the Bang on a Can “LONG PLAY” music festival – a three-day NYC event each year that draws hundreds of percussive artists from around the world. With instruments nearly packed and ready to go, SOU’s contingency had to wait while the world paused for the pandemic.
The invitation was extended again this year and with renewed fervor, SOU’s percussion faculty – Terry Longshore, Bryan Jeffs and Reed Bentley – will venture to NYC with percussion students and perform during the festival, April 29 through May 1.
SOU will be the only university participating in the May Day festival, and students will share the stage with a cadre of some of the biggest names, composers and musicians, in the world of percussion – an impressive “who’s who” of new music. A total of 11 percussion students, three faculty members and two SOU alumni will participate during the festival, which features 50-plus percussive artists and 60-plus concerts across eight pioneering music venues in Brooklyn. Performances will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Roulette, Public Records, Littlefield, Mark Morris Dance Center, The Center for Fiction, outdoor events at The Plaza at 300 Ashland and more.
Longshore’s longstanding connections with festival producers prompted the recent invitations and opportunities for SOU students. He has been involved in the weekend festival since the early 1990’s and performed twice during his own master’s program. He has also made connections with composers and other percussionists through his own professional music career and has participated in the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA.
Bang on a Can was founded in 1987 by lauded contemporary composers Julia Wolfe, David Lang and Michael Gordon. Lang and Wolfe have each been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Gordon is the composer of “Natural History,” which premiered with a 2016 performance at Crater Lake by the Britt Festival Orchestra with Steiger Butte Drum, members of the SOU Percussion Ensemble and various SOU music faculty and students.
“Right now – this minute – is an amazing time to love music,” Wolfe, Lang and Gordon said in a statement about this year’s festival. “Musicians and listeners from every corner of the music world are pushing beyond their boundaries, questioning their roots, searching and stretching for the new. There’s so much audacity and so much courage. We want to show you all of it.
“With the creation of LONG PLAY, we are presenting more kinds of musicians, playing more kinds of music, bending more kinds of minds. LONG PLAY expands and enlarges our scope and our reach, and puts more new faces on stage than ever before. It’s a lot of music!”
The theme of this year’s festival is “An Explosion of Mind-Bending Music of the Moment.” Some of the headliner/highlighted groups: Bang on a Can All-Stars, Kris David/Dave Holland, Matmos, Michael Pisaro, Pan in Motion, Sun Ra Arkestra and Vijay Iyer.
Left Edge Percussion, directed by Longshore, is SOU’s graduate-level percussion group in residence at SOU’s Oregon Center for the Arts. The group regularly collaborates with artists of various media, and are featured at festivals and events worldwide.
The SOU Percussion Ensemble, directed by SOU alumnus and faculty member Bryan Jeffs, is made up of SOU music program students who perform on campus and across the Rogue Valley at a variety of community events. Several students who were slated for the 2020 festival will now get the chance to participate.
“I was so disappointed the festival was cancelled in 2020,” said Jared Rountree, a junior music major and member of the SOU Percussion Ensemble. “But when we were invited again to this year’s festival, I was overwhelmed and excited. I am so ready to get out there and perform again in front of a big audience – I feel like I’m getting my life back through music.”
“We will perform along a star-studded cast of performers and composers at the festival, and this is truly an incredible opportunity for our students and alumni,” Longshore said.
And speaking of alumni, two of Longshore’s first music students – Joseph Perez ‘07 and Rebecca Merusi ‘06 – will meet up and perform with SOU during the festival.
“The piece ‘ricefall’ is composed for 16 players and we only had 14,” Longshore said. “So I reached out to a couple of percussion alumni that live near Brooklyn, to see if they would join us.”
“I didn’t even hesitate to say yes, when Terry called and asked if I would perform,” Merusi said. “I started as a percussion ensemble at SOU before Terry arrived at SOU. Now, to be joining them in a performance 20 years later, is absolutely epic.
“SOU is very much a center for the arts, and I am unbelievably proud of my experience and legacy there, and enthusiastic about everything that continues to develop.”
Merusi is connected with the Eastman School of Music, plays with a local philharmonic ensemble, and is an executive team leader for Target Corporation.
Both SOU groups will perform one piece during the festival. Left Edge Percussion will perform “Strange and Sacred Noise” by composer and Pulitzer Prize for Music awardee John Luther Adams, at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. Adams uses his music to describe the natural world, how nature changes us and how we change it, impacting the health of our planet.
The SOU Percussion Ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29, a piece called “ricefall” by Michael Pisaro, director of the Composition and Experimental Sound program at the California Institute of the Arts. The ensemble in this piece will create a sonic environment, visual and intensely quiet and dramatic, and use rice falling like a gentle rain, from the hands of the performers, onto a variety of objects and surfaces.
The festival won’t be livestreamed, but tickets are available at: www.longplayfestival.org, and range from $95 to $350.
SOU’s percussion groups will also perform on campus – both ensembles will perform Re-Construction at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, in the SOU Music Recital Hall; the SOU Percussion Ensemble will perform “ricefall” at 7:30 p.m. on May 26 in the SOU Music Recital Hall; and Left Edge Percussion will perform “Strange and Sacred Noise” on June 3 at the CVA First Friday Gallery Opening in the courtyard in front the SOU Art Building.
Story by Kim Andresen, Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU