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From Bach to Zappa

Meridian Arts Ensemble Residency @ UB

On Tuesday, March 31, the Meridian Arts Ensemble, the top avant-garde brass quintet in America, makes a very welcome return to Buffalo for a four-day residency at UB, sponsored by the Robert Morris and Carol Center for 21st Century Music.

Meridian Arts Ensemble

Meridian Arts Ensemble plays against the traditional public image of the classical brass quintet—what someone has described as “five graying males in tuxedos playing Renaissance music.” Although one of the earlier of MAE’s nine commercial recordings on the Channel Classics label, Visions of the Renaissance, does happen to be an outstanding recording of more unusual pieces from that repertoire, the MAE has made its real mark playing contemporary brass music, sometimes in transcriptions by group members, but also in more than 50 new compositions commissioned by the group. Based in New York City as a faculty ensemble at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, the MAE quickly gained a reputation for veering away from the traditionally safe academic music towards the outer bounds of American vernacular music, i.e. “pop” music.

Besides promoting the works of the heavy hitters of modern music, such as Igor Stravinsky, Witold Lutoslawski, and Milton Babbitt, and jazz legends like Billy Strayhorn, the MAE has experienced great success, both in live, concert performance and on CD, with the music of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Captain Beefheart, King Crimson, and especially Frank Zappa. The members of the group established a close, working relationship with Zappa a few years before his death in 1993. Zappa liked what trumpet player Jon Nelson, associate professor of trumpet in the UB Department of Music, did with transcriptions of music from Zappa’s recordings, and he coached the members of the MAE in performance details of his works, after listening to rehearsal tapes. The works of Zappa, a genuine American original, who composed inventive music in the same church, if not necessarily in the same pew, as Charles Ives, have found new, appreciative audiences, particularly for pieces such as “Orange County Lumber Truck,” “Big Swift,” and “Harry You’re a Beast,” with players “yelping and gasping in wild cadenzas.”

Besides holding master classes for the students at UB, the MAE will hold classes for the students at the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, and play a concert at BAVPA on April 3 with those students. The ensemble will perform a concert on Wednesday evening, April 1, at 7:30pm, as part of WBFO’s Wednesday Night Series at Allen Hall, featuring music from their new CD, as well as selections by Zappa. Admission to the event is free. For more information, visit

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