Composer debuts ‘Music for 5 Musicians’ for UIC

Marc Mellits

Marc Mellits, UIC assistant professor of music (Click on image to download larger file.)

Marc Mellits has composed dozens of commissioned works for Grammy winners like the Kronos Quartet and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. His latest is for the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is an assistant professor of music.

“Music for 5 Musicians” celebrates the reorganized UIC School of Theatre & Music, formerly the Department of Performing Arts. It will debut in a free public concert on March 15, 7:30 p.m., at the UIC Theatre, 1044 W. Harrison St.

The 12-minute piece will be performed with its hour-long namesake: “Music for 18 Musicians” by Steve Reich, the Pulitzer Prize-winning minimalist pioneer for whom Mellits worked while a graduate student at Yale and Cornell.

“‘Music for 18 Musicians’ was never written down,” Mellits said. “I worked from the only recording and created a new kind of notation for this vastly unconventional work.”

“Music for 5 Musicians” will be performed  by UIC faculty members Paula Kosower on cello, Daniel Murphy on piano, Nicholas Carlson on clarinet, and Jordan Kamps on marimba, in addition to Mellits’ wife, Cristina Buciu, on violin. They will join Mellits, special guest artists and other faculty to play “Music for 18 Musicians.”

The concert will be preceded by a panel discussion on creating new music at 6:45 p.m. Panelists include Mellits; Steve Everett, composer and dean of the UIC College of Architecture, Design and the Arts; and Roshanne Etezady, composer and adjunct lecturer. Michael J. Anderson, director of choral and vocal studies, will moderate.

Mellits describes “Music for 5 Musicians” as “a suite of continuous connected miniatures.”

“Its textures are based on everyone playing together, all the time. I work as a constructionist, building music the way a chef builds a great dish,” he said.

“It’s the first time in many years that I was able to partially choose my instrumentation. I started with low ideas — bass clarinet, cello — but then the music poured out these harmonies, so I added piano. And I needed another melodic element, so I chose the violin, and the marimba is the glue that ties it all together. The music dictated the instruments.”

Mellits’ music is performed hundreds of times a year in venues from Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center to European music festivals. YouTube videos of such performances have had millions of views, Mellits says, noting three of his favorites: “Black,” Detroit Public TV’s “New Music Detroit,” and a narrative video set to “Mara’s Lullaby.”

The New York Times described his style as “’60s minimalism in short bursts that more accurately reflect an era of short attention spans.” Mellits says, “I was writing this music long before I heard ’60s minimalism. That gave me more confirmation than inspiration.”

Mellits also directs and plays keyboards in the Mellits Consort and has recorded more than 40 CDs.

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