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On its first American tour, the Zimbabwe Group Leaders Mbira Ensemble will give a free concert

This weekend, the Department of Music is presenting two concerts to celebrate world music at Cornell. Both events are free and open to the public.

The first concert, this Friday at 8 p.m. in Barnes Hall, features five of southern Africa's most distinguished mbira (thumb piano) players, the Zimbabwe Group Leaders Mbira Ensemble. The concert at Cornell is just one stop on the musicians' first American tour. Prior to the performance, Northwestern University Professor Paul Berliner will host a lecture and demonstration on the music of Zimbabwe at 7 p.m., also in Barnes Hall.

Solo and ensemble works will be performed by spirit medium Hakurotwi Mude (the "Queen of Mbira Music"), Beauler Dyoko, Chaka Chawasarira, Cosmas and Simon Magaya as well as Berliner. Various instruments will be used in the performance, including different types of mbira, drums, hosho (gourd rattles), musical bows and antelope trumpets.

The mbira is one of Africa's unique contributions to the world of music. Found in a multitude of varieties throughout the continent, the mbira consists of a number of metal or reed keys arranged over a bridge on a hardwood soundboard. Musicians pluck the free ends of the keys to set them ringing, producing a flow of rhythmic patterns with harp-like or marimba-like tones. A buzzing mechanism adds complexity to the pure tones of the keys like the snare on a snare drum. In Zimbabwe alone, the mbira comes in six different types, each with a distinctive number of steel keys, keyboard layout, tuning plan, playing technique and repertory. Three types of mbira are featured on this program.

The second concert is this Saturday, Oct. 16, at 8 p.m. in Bailey Hall and features the Cornell Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Edward Murray, performing Professor Steven Stucky's Double Flute Concerto, with soloists Wendy Herbener Mehne and Karl Kraber, and Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony, with soprano Arsenia Soto '00.

In 1994, when Stucky was composer-in-residence with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, he composed the concerto for the orchestra's principal flutists as part of a commission to write a new work for the orchestra. Written in three movements, but in an unusual slow-fast-slow tempo sequence, the composition begins with an elegy for the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, who died a few months before Stucky began writing the work.

Mehne, a founding member of Ensemble X, is an associate professor at Ithaca College, where she teaches flute and performs with the Ithaca Wind Quintet. She has played at Alice Tully Hall and at the annual National Flute Association Convention. Kraaber is a faculty member at the University of Texas and has been a member of the famed Dorian Wind Quintet, the New York Chamber Soloists and the Aeolian Chamber Players.

Soto is the winner of last year's Civic Morning Musicale competition in Syracuse. She sang this past summer in the Young Artist Ensemble at the Caramoor International Music Festival in Westchester, N.Y., and performed the role of the Third Spirit in Die Zauberflöte with L'Operaestate di Roma in Italy.

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