David Lang, LANG: Are You Experienced? / Under Orpheus / ADAMS: Grand Pianola Music

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The Netherlands Wind Ensemble has built its reputation on two very sturdy pillars: one is new music, the other is early music (in fact, they've done recordings that mix both). Here, under the direction of American percussionist and conductor Stephen Mosko, the ensemble produces a truly orchestral sound, aided and abetted by occasional voices and piano. The program is an all-American one, featuring two of Pulitzer Prize-winner John Adams'most high-octane works, and two very different pieces by David Lang.

An all-American program from the Netherlands Wind Ensemble.

Lang is perhaps best known as one of the founders of New York's Bang on a Can organization, a new music empire that now encompasses an annual series of concerts, a house band and a record label. “Are You Experienced?” is typical Lang — referring to a classic rock touchstone but taking the idea in a different and unexpected direction, using amplified tuba instead of Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar and leavening what is a somewhat disturbing image — the loss of one's mind and identity — with a dose of deadpan humor. You could download bits and pieces, but to get the full impact of the work, you'll want the whole.

“Under Orpheus” is closer to Lang's ambient, Eno-inspired works. This is especially true of the first part, “Aria: Disembodied Singing,” which is an aptly named meditative work for voice and wind band. The two Adams pieces are colorful, splashy scores that suit this band well — “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine” is a relentless, headlong rush of musical fun. It just might be the most programmed work for orchestra by an American composer, but it works as a wind band piece, too. The oldest piece here is “Grand Pianola Music,” in which a young, brash Adams basically spends half an hour thumbing his nose at the conventions of classical music. Creating the impression of a machine going off the rails, this piece is by turns rude, wheezing and, in its grand finale, full of Adams'distinctly American mix of irreverent wit and compositional panache.