Ken Thomson is a Brooklyn-based clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer. In demand as a composer and freelancer in many settings, he moves quickly between genres and scenes, bringing a fiery intensity and emotional commitment to every musical situation; Time Out New York called him “the hardest-working saxophonist in new-music show business.” In addition to the All-Stars, Thomson currently plays with a terrific range of innovative ensembles and projects. For years he has been an anchoring force with Bang on a Can as managing director and saxophonist with Asphalt Orchestra and as a faculty member of Bang on a Can’s Summer Music Festival at Mass MoCA. His quintet, Slow/Fast, exclusively performs his music; the group released its debut album It Would Be Easier If internationally on Intuition Records in 2010, garnering a review in The New York Times highlighting the “intricately wrought and incident-steeped” compositions and “gutsy precision of the playing.” Thomson also plays saxophone and is one of the three composers in the punk/jazz band Gutbucket, with whom he has toured extensively throughout the US and internationally over fourteen years, and released CDs for Knitting Factory, Enja, NRW, Cantaloupe and Cuneiform Records.
As a clarinetist, Thomson is a member of the next-generation chamber orchestra Busy Signal (conducted by Brad Lubman), working directly with composers from Steve Reich to Helmut Lachenmann and can be heard on CDs for Mode, Orange Mountain, and Cantaloupe Records; he is a frequent collaborator with many new-composed music groups including Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, and more. He has also worked as a music director, notably directing composer Julia Wolfe's Traveling Music at the Bordeaux Conservatory, France in 2009. As a composer, he has been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the True/False Film Festival, and others, and has received awards from New Music USA, ASCAP and Meet the Composer. He has recently completed a CD of his compositions with the heralded JACK Quartet, entitled Thaw, to be released in 2013 on Cantaloupe Music.
Formed in 1992, the Bang on a Can All-Stars are recognized worldwide for their ultra-dynamic live performances and recordings of today’s most innovative music. Freely crossing the boundaries between classical, jazz, rock, world and experimental music, this six-member amplified ensemble has consistently forged a distinct category-defying identity, taking music into uncharted territories. Performing each year throughout the US and internationally, the All-Stars have shattered the definition of what concert music is today. Together, the All-Stars have worked in unprecedented close collaboration with some of the most important and inspiring musicians of our time, including Steve Reich, Ornette Coleman, Burmese circle drum master Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Tan Dun, DJ Spooky, and many more. The group’s celebrated projects include their landmark recordings of Brian Eno’s ambient classic Music for Airports and Terry Riley’s In C, as well as live performances with Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Don Byron, Iva Bittova, Thurston Moore, Owen Pallett and others.
The All-Stars were awarded Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year in 2005 and have been heralded as “the country’s most important vehicle for contemporary music” by The San Francisco Chronicle. Recent project highlights include Field Recordings, a major new multi media project featuring hot-off-the-press commissioned works by Laurie Anderson, Tyondai Braxton, Mira Calix, Anna Clyne, Dan Deacon, Bryce Dessner, Florent Ghys, Michael Gordon, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Christian Marclay, Paula Matthusen, Todd Reynolds, Julia Wolfe, and Nick Zammuto; the world premiere, performances, and recording of Steve Reich’s 2x5 including a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall; the group’s multiple visits to China for the Beijing Music Festival and Hong Kong Arts Festival; the US tour and Carnegie Hall performance of Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer, an evening-length staged concert with Trio Mediaeval; commissioned works by Louis Andriessen, Bill Frisell, Ryuichi Sakamoto and more. With a massive repertoire of works written specifically for the group's distinctive instrumentation and style of performance, the All-Stars have become a genre in their own right. The All-Stars record on Cantaloupe Music and have released past recordings on Sony, Universal and Nonesuch.
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 celebrated 25 years during the 2011-2012 season, having 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 in 1987, in an art gallery in SoHo, wenever imagined that our one-day, 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,” writes 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 for the last 25 years, and we are not done yet.”
Current projects include the annual Bang on a Can Marathon; 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 — 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 new 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 developing countries; cross-disciplinary collaborations and projects with DJs, visual artists, choreographers, filmmakers and more. Each new program has evolved to answer specific challenges faced by today’s musicians, composers and audiences, in order to make innovative music widely accessible and wildly received. Bang on a Can’s inventive and aggressive 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.