PRISM Quartet Meets Bang on a Can

With over 300 commissions to its credit, the intrepid PRISM Quartet (Timothy McAllister, Zachary Shemon, Matthew Levy, Taimur Sullivan) presents a portrait of Bang on a Can‘s visionary co-founders in an all-saxophone program featuring the premiere of  In a delirium by Michael Gordon alongside performances of Cha by Julia Wolfe and Revolutionary Etudes by David Lang.

Both PRISM and Bang on a Can were founded in the 1980s with a common dedication to new music, and both evolved independently over decades to present programs of powerful contemporary work on tour and in self-produced concert series and festivals; to establish robust commissioning programs; to launch their own record labels (XAS and Cantaloupe, respectively); and to present educational programs in the service of new generations of aspiring artists. After performing Lang’s sax quartet and subsequently commissioning Wolfe in 2015, PRISM now completes the Bang on a Can sax quartet triumvirate with a new commission from Gordon. This program celebrates three extraordinary composers and their invaluable contributions to the field.


In a delirium by Michael Gordon (premiere)
Cha by Julia Wolfe
Revolutionary Etudes by David Lang

Michael Gordon’s new work, In a delirium, pushes the bounds of performance practice to realize a fantastical vision of the saxophone quartet. He writes, In a delirium I heard a quartet of fractured saxophones playing the National Space Anthem. They would chase the speed of light and then grind to a halt; ignore each other, like east west north and south, and the come together like a Grand March. They played all the consonants and then all the vowels. When I awoke I wrote this song. It’s just a memory of what I heard, out there, in that other world.”

PRISM commissioned Julia Wolfe for Cha shortly after the passing of her beloved father, to whom the work is dedicated. She writes, My favorite memory is dancing the cha-cha-cha with my father. He would hit the dance floor and take me along with him. We danced together from when I was 10 until sometime into my early teens. It was great fun. As I thought about this way of remembering my dad I began to research the cha-cha-cha, and very quickly realized that our suburban version was hardly like the various Cuban versions with their wild sensuality, polyrhythms, and highly stylized movement. The cha-cha-cha takes its name from the shuffling sound of the feet against the dance floor and first emerged just a few years before I was born. My piece takes the cha cha as a starting point and creates a joyful deconstruction/exaggeration of the style for sax quartet.”

Commissioned by the New Century Quartet, David Lang’s Revolutionary Etudes was inspired by the ensemble’s recording of The Art of Fugue by J.S. Bach, by the monumentality of the project,” in the composer’s words. It is asking to have the saxophone taken seriously, for all that it can do. As a composer I immediately imagined how important for the medium it would be for a composer to take this seriousness, this monumentality into consideration, in the creation of a new work. I started with what became the second movement of my piece, writing seemingly endless streams of notes, trying to trick the melodic and harmonic changes to emerge virtuosically from the dense fabric of the material. Somehow what I was doing reminded me of what Chopin did in his Etude, Opus 10, Number 12—make a ridiculously fast and vaguely minor scale last forever. Chopin’s piece is of course called the Revolutionary Etude. I decided to make a set of these myself.”


Michael Gordon is known for his monumental and immersive works. Decasia, for 55 retuned spatially positioned instruments (with Bill Morrison’s accompanying cult-classic film) has been featured on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Minimalist Jukebox Festival and at the Southbank Centre. Timber, a tour-de-force for percussion sextet played on amplified microtonal simantras has been performed on every continent, including by Slagwerk Den Haag at the Musikgebouw and Mantra Percussion at BAM. Natural History, a collaboration with the Steiger Butte Drum of the Klamath tribe, was premiered by the Britt Festival Orchestra and Chorus on the rim of Crater Lake (Oregon) by conductor Teddy Abrams and is the subject of the PBS documentary Symphony for Nature. Gordon’s vocal works include Anonymous Man, an autobiographical choral work for The Crossing; the opera What to wear with the legendary director Richard Foreman; and the film-opera Acquanetta with director Daniel Fish. Recent recordings include Clouded Yellow, Gordon’s complete string quartets performed by the Kronos Quartet.


Julia Wolfe

Julia Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. She draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

The 2019 world premiere of Fire in my mouth, a large-scale work for orchestra and women’s chorus, by the New York Philharmonic with The Crossing and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, received extensive acclaim — one reviewer called the work “a monumental achievement in high musical drama, among the most commandingly imaginative and emotively potent works of any kind that I’ve ever experienced.” (The Nation Magazine) The work is the third in a series of compositions about the American worker: 2009’s Steel Hammer examines the folk-hero John Henry, and the 2015 Pulitzer prize-winning work, Anthracite Fields, a concert-length oratorio for chorus and instruments, draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. Mark Swed of the LA Times wrote, Anthracite Fields “captures not only the sadness of hard lives lost…but also of the sweetness and passion of a way of daily life now also lost. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work.”

In addition to receiving the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Wolfe was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. She received the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in Music, and was named Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year. Julia Wolfe is co-founder/co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can, and she is Artistic Director of NYU Steinhardt Music Composition.


“With his winning of the Pulitzer Prize for the little match girl passion(one of the most original and moving scores of recent years), Lang, once a postminimalist enfant terrible, has solidified his standing as an American master.”
— The New Yorker

David Lang is one of the most highly esteemed and performed American composers writing today. His works have been performed around the world in most of the great concert halls. Lang’s simple song #3, written as part of his score for Paolo Sorrentino’s acclaimed film YOUTH, received many awards nominations in 2016, including the Academy Award and Golden Globe. His opera prisoner of the state (with libretto by Lang) was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Rotterdam’s de Doelen Concert Hall, London’s Barbican Centre, Barcelona’s l’Auditori, Bochum Symphony Orchestra, and Bruges’s Concertgebouw, and premiered June 2019 in New York, conducted by Jaap van Zweden. prisoner of the state received its UK premiere in January 2020 with the BBC Symphony, European premieres are rescheduled for 2022-2023.

2022 has included several noteworthy premieres. sun-centered for the Tallis Scholars — a large scale choral work designed to share a program with Antoine Brumel’s monumental Renaissance mass for 12 voices Missa Et ecce terræ motus (“and the Earth moved”); Song of Songs, a new evening-length work for Pam Tanowitz Dance, commissioned by the Fisher Center at Bard College and touring internationally in 2023; flower, forget me, a song cycle for the noted baritone Benjamin Appl, and composition as explanation, a fully staged reimagination of a 1926 lecture by Gertrude Stein, for the chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird, directed by the acclaimed Anne Bogart.

Lang is a Professor of Music Composition at the Yale School of Music and is Artist in Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.  He is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can.

Bang on a Can

Bang on a Can is dedicated to making music new.  Since its first Marathon concert in 1987, Bang on a Can has been creating an international community dedicated to innovative music, wherever it is found.  With adventurous programs, it commissions new composers, performs, presents, and records new work, develops new audiences, and educates the musicians of the future.  Bang on a Can is building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Bang on a Can plays “a central role in fostering a new kind of audience that doesn’t concern itself with boundaries.  If music is made with originality and integrity, these listeners will come.” (The New York Times)

Bang on a Can has grown from a one-day New York-based Marathon concert (on Mother’s Day in 1987 in a SoHo art gallery) to a multi-faceted performing arts organization with a broad range of year-round international activities. “When we started Bang on a Can, we never imagined that our 12-hour marathon festival of mostly unknown music would morph into a giant international organization dedicated to the support of experimental music, wherever we would find it,” write Bang on a Can Co-Founders Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe. “But it has, and we are so gratified to be still hard at work, all these years later. The reason is really clear to us – we started this organization because we believed that making new music is a utopian act – that people needed to hear this music and they needed to hear it presented in the most persuasive way, with the best players, with the best programs, for the best listeners, in the best context. Our commitment to changing the environment for this music has kept us busy and growing, and we are not done yet.”

In March 2020, when the pandemic began, Bang on a Can responded with the Live Online concert series including our signature Marathon concerts. With this online series, Bang on a Can has been able to support composers and performers and engage audiences throughout the pandemic shutdown. Other projects for when we can present in-person concerts include the annual LOUD Weekend and LONG PLAY festivals at MASS MoCA and in NYC respectively; the People’s Commissioning Fund, a membership program to commission emerging composers; the Bang on a Can All-Stars, who tour to major festivals and concert venues around the world every year; recording projects; the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA – a professional development program for young composers and performers led by today’s pioneers of experimental music; Asphalt Orchestra, Bang on a Can’s extreme street band that offers mobile performances re-contextualizing unusual music; Found Sound Nation, a technology-based musical outreach program now partnering with the State Department of the United States of America to create OneBeat, a revolutionary, post-political residency program that uses music to bridge the gulf between young American musicians and young musicians from around the world; cross-disciplinary collaborations and projects with DJs, visual artists, choreographers, filmmakers and more.

Each new Bang on a Can program has evolved to answer specific challenges faced by today’s musicians, composers and audiences, in order to make innovative music widely accessible. Bang on a Can’s inventive and assertive approach to programming and presentation has created a large and vibrant international audience made up of people of all ages who are rediscovering the value of contemporary music.

COVID-19 PROTOCOLS: Vaccinations and Masks
This concert is open only to fully vaccinated and masked individuals. Anyone wishing to enter the building must show a proof of vaccination – such as a Covid-19 vaccination card or an Excelsior Pass – to staff at the door. Musicians and staff members have been vaccinated.

This program is presented with generous support from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council, the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, Conn-Selmer, and Meridian Winds.

Michael Gordon’s commission, In a delirium, has been made possible with generous support from the the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. Julia Wolfe’s commission, Cha, has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund. David Lang’s Revolutionary Etudes was commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet.

PRISM Quartet welcomes all individuals to our concerts, and provides a variety of accommodations for those with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For specific accommodations, please contact or 215.438.5282.

PRISM selects only wheelchair accessible performance venues with dedicated seating locations for wheelchairs. Ramps and an elevator (access on Emmett St.) are permanent at The First Presbyterian Church. For any guest who requires a paid Personal Care Attendant (PCA), PRISM will provide a PCA Pass at no cost with a paid admission. Any guests with disabilities who require a PCA and wish to purchase advance tickets should contact PRISM at 215.438.5282 of to request a PCA Pass with the ticket.

Meridian Winds

First Presbyterian Church of Ypsilanti
300 N. Washington St., Ypsilanti, MI

September 25, 2022
7 PM

$25 general admissions, $20 seniors/students with ID (all fees included)