Issue 10: Kid Mystics: Black Mountain Songs At BAM

By Eli Blumm

John Cage premiered In A Landscape, his most accessibly beautiful work for piano, at Black Mountain College in 1948. Played by Ning Yu in the BAM Harvey lounge on November 21, it meandered restlessly beneath the din of folks who mingled over pre-show drinks and treats. Cage lectured and composed at Black Mountain throughout its brief existence from 1933 to 1957. The world changed a lot during that time. All the while, the school was an oasis for artists of every conceivable type and nature. And then it was gone, leaving behind a formidable artistic legacy and a vacant campus in the foothills of Asheville, North Carolina.

BAM Harvey’s "condemned-chic" lends itself to a feeling of a place that was once rich with life left abandoned. Craggy red bricks peek through the theater’s crusting paint. Green copper siding rises up toward rusted out catwalks. On stage to greet the audience from the outset was percussionist David Cossin. He sat adroitly at a desk and plucked the thorns of an amplified cactus. Dancer Adam Gauzza pitched and rolled freely around him. Black Mountain alum Basil King sat off in the corner. It was odd. Something was happening, and there was a voyeuristic feeling that it would be whether people were there to see it or not. And then children stormed the hall.

Black Mountain Songs ran for three nights. Co-curated by Bryce Dessner and Richard Reed Parry, rock-god champions of new classical music, the idea behind the program was to “inhabit the creative ideas” and invoke “the collaborative spirit of the place.” To that end Dessner and Parry assembled the choreographer Jenny Shore Butler, filmmaker Matt Wolf, composers Caroline Shaw, Nico Muhly, Tim Hecker, Jherek Bischoff, Aleksandra Vrebalov, and John King. The peerless Brooklyn Youth Chorus gave their music its voice.

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