David Lang

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David Lang


• Born 1957

Editor's Choice

Co-founder and co-artistic director of the New York City-based musical collective Bang on a Can, the American composer David Lang was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his vocal piece 'The Little Match Stick Girl Passion'. Specially commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices, this deeply affecting and highly imaginative setting of texts from Hans Christian Andersen's eponymous fairy tale, the Gospel according to St Matthew and Bach's St Matthew Passion has struck a chord with audiences globally and has since been adapted to include a chamber ensemble and full chorus. It has also received numerous stage productions. Lang offers his own succinct description: "There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus – rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus's, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane."


David Lang has often been categorized as a post-minimalist, but his style is deeper and more complex than that term might suggest: though he has broadened minimalist techniques like other post-minimalists, he has employed a variety of disparate elements in his compositions, including rock and Bachian compositional forms. Lang won a Pulizter Prize for his choral composition The Little Match Stick Girl Passion (2007), a work formally modeled on Bach's St. Matthew Passion but containing music so highly individual that some critics expressed astonishment at how to categorize or describe its imaginative character. Lang's music can seem harmonically and rhythmically static, with seemingly little going on, as in How to Pray (2002) and Men (2001), both pieces being part of a visual/musical work called Elevated. Yet his admirers will assert there is much profundity beneath the surface of his music, and many critics will agree. Lang has also collaborated with other composers on large works, as he did with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon on The Carbon Copy Building (1999), a so-called comic-strip opera, which was awarded the Village Voice OBIE Award in 2000. Lang's works have been issued on a variety of labels, including BMG, Cantaloupe, Chandos, Decca, Harmonia Mundi, Naxos, Sony Classical, and others.

Lang was born in Los Angeles, CA, on January 8, 1957. He studied music at Stanford, University of Iowa, and Yale. His list of teachers is impressive: Jacob Druckman, Hans Werner Henze, and Martin Bresnick are just three of the most prominent. In 1980 and 1981 Lang received student composer awards from the BMI Foundation. He relocated to New York and gradually gained recognition. In 1987 he co-founded, with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon, Bang On A Can, an organization promoting new and eclectic music, often presented in marathon concerts.

In 1999 Lang drew notice for his opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, a work whose libretto was inspired by an Ambrose Bierce short story. The piece was scored for and premiered by the Kronos Quartet, with vocal soloists. Lang continued drawing notice in the new century with works like Fur (2004), for piano and orchestra. Most of his larger works came as the result of important commissions, including The Little Match Stick Girl Passion, which was a co-commission from the Carnegie Corporation and the Perth Theater and Concert Hall. Since 2008 Lang has been teaching composition at Yale University Music School.