Ensemble Dal Niente to bring experimental style to Voxman

This week, Chicago-based contemporary music group Ensemble Dal Niente will perform at Voxman for the second part of their residency with the UI music program.



Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

For the Center for New Music’s fifth concert this season, the program will welcome Chicago-based contemporary music group Ensemble Dal Niente.

The ensemble was originally scheduled to participate in a residency with the UI’s Center for New Music last spring, but it was split into two separate portions due to COVID-19-related conflicts. In April, the group performed in a concert with original compositions written by undergraduate music students.

On Nov. 1, Ensemble Dal Niente will return to the UI for a repertoire performance in the Concert Hall of the Voxman Music Building at 7:30 p.m.

Harpist Ben Melsky, the executive director of Dal Niente, said that the 22-member group will perform an arrangement of seven separate pieces to exemplify what makes the ensemble unique, specifically its experimental style.

“We play contemporary music that is often experimental, that crosses over into all types of genres,” Melsky said. “We certainly do a lot of interdisciplinary projects, as well as a lot of new, sort of challenging avant garde music that seeks to redefine what music is, and what it can do.”

Out of the seven pieces that will be performed, all were composed within the last 20 years except for one — Stravinsky’s Four Songs, composed from 1953 to 1954.

Melsky noted that one piece, titled “Hack,” composed by Sivan Cohen Elias in 2016, is more akin to a theatrical performance than a purely instrumental one. The composition mainly focuses on guitar instrumentals, though it also features vocal portions.

Jean-Francois Charles, an assistant professor of composition and digital media in the UI’s school of music, emphasized Ensemble Dal Niente’s versatile abilities as a music group, which also make the group easy for students to learn from.

“They can perform what is popular or not, in many different styles,” Charles said. “They are very versatile, and the concert is going to reflect that variety of colors and possibilities.”

Charles also said the wide range of instruments that Dal Niente’s members perform with made them a great candidate for a residency. He noted that instruments like the harp are not taught at the UI, so the chance for students to observe and compose for unfamiliar instruments was one the department could not pass up.

The ensemble’s name, Dal Niente, means “from nothing” in Italian. It is a tribute to the 1970 composition Dal niente (Interieur III) by Helmut Lachenmann, which is known for upending traditional perceptions of instrumental technique in the contemporary music scene.

Melsky said ultimately, when the Ensemble usually performs at colleges or universities, they try to angle their performances with a more academic perspective in mind, but never stray too far from their unusual style.

“It’s going to be a really cool one with a lot of very interesting music, that will really make audiences be like ‘what are these instruments, what are they doing?’” Melsky said.