Flautist Naomi Johnson and composer Connor D’Netto are fellows at this year’s Summer Festival for new music.

Two Australian musicians will be taking part in the Bang On A Can Summer Festival, a three week new-music extravaganza held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, billed as a “musical utopia for innovative musicians”. Flautist Naomi Johnson and composer Connor D’Netto have been chosen to take part in the festival, which runs July 17 to August 6.

“Bang On A Can is one of the few new music names known around the world,” said composer, artist and Limelight contributor Julian Day, a previous Bang On A Can participant. “For 30 years they’ve led the way with their bold programming and dynamic initiatives: the All Stars, the People’s Commissioning Fund, and their famous annual Marathon. Each year a handful of the world’s most promising musicians are selected to participate in their summer festival.”

Naomi JohnsonFlautist Naomi Johnson

Composers at the festival will have their works performed by the festival’s ensembles in daily concerts at the museum, while players will perform in ensembles alongside their teachers. The festival also includes African and Latin music workshops, electronics and music business seminars. The climax of the Bang On A Can Summer Festival is its six-hour Marathon Concert, performed by the festival’s ensembles and special guests.

“There are so many thing that drew me to this festival! I think I’m most looking forward to being immersed in the incredible music and art of the festival without all the distractions of regular life,” Australian-British flute player Naomi Johnson told Limelight. “I’m really excited to explore MASS MoCA and hear what such a wonderful space inspires in composers and performers alike.”

Johnson has performed with new music ensembles including the Music Box Project, Melbourne University New Music Ensemble, Hopkins Sinfonia, Ensemble Offspring, and Melbourne’s Forest Collective as part of the 2014 Metropolis New Music Festival. She curated the performance piece Blackbird in the Garden with Forest Collective in 2016 and this year will be curating performances with Music Box Project. What does she hope to get out of her Bang On A Can experience?

“I want to have my concept of music, sound and performance blown apart, turned inside out and redefined!” she says. “My ears will be wide open for new sounds, as well as sounds that challenge my concept of music and the way that I make it. I’m also hoping to make some great friends, and to sew the seeds for future musical projects.”

“The festival will give me a wonderful and alas rather rare opportunity to be totally and utterly immersed in daring contemporary music for three weeks,” she says. “I hope this saturation of sounds, ideas and creative people will both push me in new directions and prompt me to consider things I hadn’t even thought of before. It will be creative fuel for now and a long time to come!”

Connor D'NettoConnor D’Netto. Photo © Keegan Nichols

For composer Connor D’Netto, working with the new music organisation has long been a dream. “For as long as I can remember I’ve been I’ve been listening to their recordings and to the music of their co-artistic directors David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon – music that has really influenced my own compositional style,” he says. “And the Festival as a whole is going to be an amazing experience, completely immersed in a whole variety of contemporary music and surrounded by amazing musicians from all around the world. Plus, the festival being at the recently expanded MASS MoCA is something I’m really looking forward to. I’m a huge contemporary art fan, so I’m very excited about just exploring the museum’s massive collection, and even more excited about putting on performances in the spaces.”

D’Netto plans to go into the festival with an open mind and doesn’t have any set goals for his time there. “Of course, I’m hoping to work towards the best performance of the new work I’ve written for the Festival, a short quasi concerto for saxophone and orchestra called Summer / Summer,” he says. “But more so, I’m just hoping to be able to take full advantage of anything and everything the Festival and working with Bang On A Can throws my way! To get to meet and work with new people, hear new things, learn from different ideas, and to see how all of this applies to and affects my practice and to see what I can bring back to Australia and the projects I’m working on here.”

“I’m also really looking forward to just go with the flow,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to stepping back, getting to enjoy it all, and also seeing how they run things!”

D’Netto has had commissions in Australia from ensembles including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Queensland’s Camerata and new music ensemble PLEXUS, as well as performers such as Katie Noonan, Karin Schaupp and Claire Edwardes. He is also the co-founder and artistic director of contemporary classical music concert series and collective Argo.

“It’s hard to overstate how excited I am about the amazing opportunity this fellowship is affording me,” he says. “So many of the composers in the international music scene were once Bang On A Can fellows, the likes of Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli, Tristan Perich, not to mention Australians including Lachlan Skipworth, Julian Day and Kate Moore – to be included alongside these in an absolute honour.”

For D’Netto, who will commence a Master of Music degree in composition at London’s Royal College of Music in September, the Summer Festival is a chance to get his music out to make connections and reach a wider audience. “This residency is my first big international residency, not to mention the one of the first major performances of my music abroad, so it’s really fantastic opportunity for my music to be featured on the world stage,” he says. “The people from all over the world I’ll have the chance to meet and work with, performers, artists, composers and more, these connections have the potential to lead towards many more exciting prospects in the future.”

The Bang On A Can Summer Festival is at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art July 17 to August 6.

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