Campus Life

Ensemble delights with colorful music

The Meridian Arts Ensemble concluded its Artist-in-Residence visit with a crowd-pleasing performance on April 3 in Snow Fine Arts.
The world-renowned ensemble is not a typical brass quintet.
For one thing, the ensemble is a sextet with a percussionist and it does not limit their artistic abilities to baroque or chamber music, but incorporate other music styles such as jazz, Afro-Cuban dance styles and music by Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few.
The members include Jon Nelson and Tim Leopold, trumpet players, Daniel Grabois, horn player, Ben Herrington, trombone player, Raymond Stewart plays the tuba and John Ferrari on percussion.
They began the evening with “Contrapunctus XV” by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Trumpet player and associate professor of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Nelson, said the piece was not completed but he composed an ending and named it “Est ist genug” which means “It is enough” in German.
The dainty, distant sound of the xylophone added a refreshing tone to the piece while intervals of the horn and trumpets mingled to create a deep tone.
The piece hit some somber moments as the resonant trumpets picked up the melody.
The second piece was “Revolver,” a 1996 piece, written specifically for the ensemble by Robert Maggio, a well-known composer.
“One of the jobs of a musician is collaboration,” Grabois said. He studied with Maggio at Yale University. “Revolver” was inspired by the popular 90’s movie “Dead Man” for its gruesome, Western connotations.
The versatile piece features five parts including “Extreme Western Frontiers,” “Unfamiliar Terrain,” “Thrown into a World,” “With Nobody’s Help” and “Open to the Fragility.”
The names depict the type of playing the Meridian Arts Ensemble does.
It starts with the drums building momentum in burst-like touches.
A slow, melodic tone follows arousing suspicion which then transforms into sounds suggestive of ambulance sirens by Herrington.
“Thrown into the World” had a jazzy feel to it. Its pace was faster and constant.
The piece ends with soft tunes that allow the listener to reflect.
Chinese student Donglu Xu, a music composition major, said the ensemble played “Mission,” as one of her pieces, on April 1.
“They had my score for a couple of days and they picked one composition for the evening’s recital and they picked mine,” Xu said. “I felt very lucky and they liked my music.”
She said “Contrapunctus XV” was a traditional piece for brass quintet that she enjoyed.
Some of the night’s more upbeat pieces came after intermission.
The Meridian Arts Ensemble has traveled to Mexico for eight to 10 years, specifically to Oaxaca where band music is popular.
They played pieces by one of Mexico’s greatest composers, Silvestre Revueltas including “Frente a Frente” and also played “Flor de Piña” “El Rancho del Charro” traditional Oaxacan songs.
The mariachi-sounding pieces bring to mind colorful snapshots of folkloric dancing.
The trumpeters, Nelson and Tim Leopold, showed their amazing dexterity while playing.
“Flor de Piña,” “Eco/Providebam Dominum” by Orlande de Lassus and “Sonata Pian’e Forte” by Giovanni Gabrieli were played with the assistance of Pinnacle Brass quintet.
The Meridian Arts Ensemble began in 1987 and currently has nine CDs released with three more to be released soon.
They have performed in 49 states and in four continents including countries like Germany, Holland, Cuba, Romania and Costa Rica.
This is the ensemble’s second visit to Arkansas. The first visit was 16 years ago to Fayetteville.
Ferrari’s favorite piece to play was Maggio’s “Revolver.”
“It featured [me]as a percussionist. It was wonderful to conduct a large ensemble,” Ferrari said.
Grabois said the ensemble likes having the freedom to play what they want.
“We choose the pieces we want to play. We can play whatever we want and we get a lot of satisfaction in that,” Grabois said. “We wanted to do some old music and some new music to show our range in styles.”
Grambois said one of the more gratifying experiences for the ensemble was when they played in at JR’s Lightbulb Club in Fayetteville with a local band called Cosmic Giggle Factory.
“We are very grateful to the faculty for being so generous and helping to organize events for us,” Herrington said.

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