Mason Modern Music Ensemble Debuts Today

Posted: May 6, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryan Effgen

The Mason Modern Music Ensemble, a new collaborative of music students, debuts this evening at 8 p.m. in Harris Theatre with a performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.”

While many of Mason’s music students have a background in the classical works of Bach or Chopin, this new ensemble gives students the opportunity to perform pieces by contemporary composers. Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” a challenging and influential late 20th century composition, serves as an ambitious starting point.

“I heard the piece for the first time last year in New York and wanted to play it here at Mason before I graduated,” says senior music student Nathan Lassell, who played a key role in forming the ensemble. “So I talked to Professors Rachel Bergman, Steve Antosca, and Meg Owens about getting a group together to perform it. They were very excited about the idea and have worked hard this semester on the logistics and as leaders of rehearsals.”

This 18-member ensemble has been rehearsing for the past six weeks to present this unique piece of music for its debut performance. “Three faculty members have been acting as moderators,” says Antosca. “But the ensemble has been driven by the students’ own initiative. At this point they’re basically working on their own.”

“Music for 18 Musicians,” which features violin, cello, two clarinets, four pianists, four female voices, and six percussionists, has its origins in African drumming music and uses most of the instruments for percussion. It is a minimalist piece that achieves rhythmic complexity through working and reworking a limited amount of materials. Performed without a conductor, the piece relies on cues from the vibraphone, played by Lassell. “The texture created by this combination of instruments is hypnotic and energetic,” he says.

Tonight’s performance promises to be the first of several. The Modern Music Ensemble will be offered for credit in the fall.

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