Strike Up the Band!

 
Student performers of MACE in rehearsal.

Student performers of MACE in rehearsal.

Established a century ago, Mannes College has seen a lot of change in the past few years. New partnerships, new styles of music, and even a plan to move the campus downtown have brought a new vision to the venerable conservatory. The creation of Mannes American Composers Ensemble, or MACE, is part of the transformation.

Composer and pianist Lowell Liebermann founded MACE when he joined the composition faculty at Mannes in 2012. The large ensemble—made up of 15 core student musicians—performs the contemporary works of living American composers at concerts twice each semester. “American composers are often underrepresented in classical music. MACE is trying to increase the public’s awareness of them,” Liebermann explains.

“The ensemble performs two pedagogical functions,” he says. “Focusing on lesser-known contemporary composers allows students to experiment and challenge their standard repertoire, and at the same time teaches them new techniques that they can then take with them to future auditions or performances.” Playing in MACE helps each student grow as a musician. “To be a successful musician these days, you need to be flexible,” adds Liebermann, “and the contemporary repertoire of the ensemble demands that.”

MACE had its first concert of the 2013–2014 season last Thursday, playing an hour-long concert at Mannes. The brevity, combined with the concert’s contemporary program, was intended to attract a younger audience and reinforce MACE’s place at the forefront of classical music performance.

MACE often performs music composed by Mannes alumni: Thursday’s concert included a piece written by alumna Shulamit Ran, the second time her work has been performed. On December 13, alumna Chelsea Feltman will sing with the ensemble, and this spring Liebermann is holding a competition for current Mannes composition students. The winning piece will be performed during the 2014–2015 MACE season.

Liebermann has big plans for the two-year-old ensemble: “World domination,” he says, cracking a smile. The composer and conductor would like to see MACE expand its reach by touring and recording, becoming an even more visible part of Mannes.

MACE’s next concert will be held on Friday, December 13, at 8:00 p.m. at Mannes’ concert hall on 85th Street. No reservations or tickets are required. Find more details about the concert here.