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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Meridian Arts Ensemble to perform at the Mondavi

The Manhattan School of Music band in residence, better known as the Meridian Arts Ensemble, will perform this Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Vanderhoef Studio at the Mondavi Center.

Tickets are available now at the Mondavi box office and mondaviarts.org. Discount tickets are $9 with student ID; General admission is $18.

“The Meridian Arts Ensemble is a unique combination of instruments,” said Philip Daley, events and publicity manager of the UC Davis Arts Administration Group. “They’re actually a traditional brass quintet: trombone, tuba, French horn and two trumpets. But they also have percussion; and the addition of percussion allows for a whole different range of pieces that they can play.”

Formed in 1987 in New York City, the Meridian Arts Ensemble had its initial roots in traditional brass chamber quintets. Soon though, the band began expanding its sound pallet beyond academic music, touching on American vernacular and particularly Frank Zappa.

“When we began getting interested in playing the music of Frank Zappa and other rock and jazz composers, we realized that we needed to add percussion to the ensemble,” said Daniel Grabois, horn player for the band.

Grabois said the ensemble played twice for Zappa at his house in Los Angeles.

“He loved how we play his pieces, and especially liked that we put it in the context of other classical music.”

MAE’s unapologetic genre mixing has also been the cause of much notoriety.

“There seems to be a tendency in America to want to categorize things,” Grabois said. “You have your jazz, your rock, your contemporary music. When we started recording CD’s with huge ranges of musical styles on them, we encountered the question: What is this? And there’s not one answer. It’s lots of different stuff! Audiences that come with an open mind will find lots to like.”

“They do such a variety of things,” Daley said. “They’re known to describe the music as ‘anything from Bach to Zappa.’ On Saturday, they’ll be doing mostly 20th century compositions, some as recent as 2009.”

In addition to Saturday’s Mondavi performance, Meridian will also be playing Sunday night at the Annual Causeway Band Festival in Jackson Hall, performing Zappa arrangements with local junior and senior high school honor bands. On Tuesday, they will hold a free noon concert in room 115 of the Music Building, where the band will perform pieces written by students of the UC Davis music department.

“It’s an exciting change of pace to have to have such an eccentric and unusual chamber band play the Mondavi,” said Jessica Kelly, senior writer for the Mondavi Center.

Since having formed in Julliard 22 years ago, MAE has released nine albums, toured on four continents, received innumerable commissions from Milton Babbitt and Elliot Sharp and still find ways to push the boundaries chamber music and redefine classical conventions.

“We are currently preparing to perform an opera we commissioned from composer Su Lian Tan,” Grabois said. “She is an ethnic Chinese woman who grew up in Singapore and is now a university professor in Vermont. That kind of sums it up!”

BORIS FREYMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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