Chamber Music Kelowna

Chamber Music Kelowna

For the final concert of their 37th season, Chamber Music Kelowna welcomed the Imani Winds to Kelowna for their inaugural visit. Based out of New York City, the five members of the ensemble dazzled the audience with their musicality and outstanding technical ability. The program itself was innovative and colourful, and the collegial and vibrant onstage presence of the group added to the enjoyment of the evening.

The program opened with three transcriptions of standard orchestral repertoire effectively arranged for wind quintet. Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from “A Midsummer Nights Dream” began the concert, and while the plethora scampering sixteenth notes are generally shared between the winds and the strings, pairing this work down to just five wind players demands enormous stamina and precision from the musicians. The group was generally tight with only a few lapses in ensemble.

An arrangement by Jonathan Russell of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” followed and was an impressive tour-de-force for all players. Unfortunately the etheric suspense of the piece was interrupted by clapping given that the printed program did not specify the four separate movements of this work.

The first half concluded with an arrangement of “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Ravel. Originally written for piano and later orchestrated by Ravel himself, this arrangement bore much similarity to the orchestral version. Given the piece was originally inspired by Baroque idioms and the French baroque dance suite, it was refreshing to hear the piece played solely on modern wind instruments, bringing a different timbre to the work.

The second half was devoted entirely to contemporary music and opened with the “Suite for Wind Quintet” by Ruth Crawford Seeger, a celebrated yet under-appreciated early 20th Century American female composer. Its angular and quasi twelve-tone techniques added an interesting perspective to the wind quintet genre as represented by the works played earlier in the concert.

The highlight of the evening were the two final pieces: “Kites” by the American musician/composer Paquito D’Rivera, and the “Dance Mediterranea” by the Palestinian-American oud virtuoso Simon Shaheen in a brilliant arrangement by the group’s horn player, Jeff Scott.

Featuring everything from spoken word to jazz improvisation, “Kites” featured both the rhythmically driving, afro-cuban voice of D’Rivera along side his transcendental classical voice. The relentless walking bassline played on bassoon by Monica Ellis in tandem with the jazz clarinet solo played by Mark Dover in the first mvt. were of particular note.

“Dance Mediterranea” concluded the evening and Imani Winds pulled out all the stops with their virtuosic and uniquely colourful, middle-eastern flair.

Kelowna audiences would most definitely welcome a return visit from this exceptional ensemble.

 

 

Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based freelance musician, composer, educator, and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.

A vibrant genre from top-notch musicians - Lied Center of Kansas

A vibrant genre from top-notch musicians - Lied Center of Kansas

The venerable genre of wind quintet—written for flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon—has existed since the beginning of the nineteenth century; actually, the combination of woodwinds and horn for chamber music is rooted in the tastes of Emperor Joseph II and his eighteenth-century court in Vienna. Despite its long history, the wind quintet is far from stagnant, and the Imani Winds, who performed at the Lied Center last Wednesday, was the perfect group to demonstrate the genre’s vitality.

Simon Shaheen’s Dance Mediterranea begins with a flute solo, played excellently by Valerie Coleman, that employs pitch bending and flutter tonguing to lend an organic, flowing air to the tune. When the other instruments entered, the articulation was uniformly crisp and clear, especially in Coleman’s and clarinetist Mark Dover’s lines. Bassoonist Monica Ellis provided bold punctuation that accented the dancelike atmosphere pervasive in the piece.

As members of Imani Winds explained in spoken remarks, the concept of this concert was international unity; how, then, did an arrangement of The Planets, by Gustav Holst, fit into this plan? In fact, as a young man, Holst became interested in Hindu philosophy, learning Sanskrit and even setting Sanskrit texts to music. As for The Planets, the four movements that the quintet played were part of a larger interest that they had in arranging large orchestral works for chamber ensembles, a project that they had begun with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and continued with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. While this reviewer was initially skeptical of the quintet’s assertion that these mammoth pieces had an inner chamber-music character, there proved to be considerable merit to that claim in the four Holst movements that the quintet played. Characters of individual melodic strains were illuminated by the intimate setting of the performance, especially in “Mars”; however, there were moments, such as the horn and oboe doubling in “Jupiter,” that did not sound successful.

A world premiere is always a special occasion, and the first piece after the intermission, The Light Is the Same by Reena Esmail, was commissioned by the Lied Center for this concert. It is based on the Sufi poetry of Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi and takes as its central tenet the idea of religious unity. The complex rhythmic activity and use of two Indian scales are potentially impediments to accessibility, but the program notes delivered from the stage went a long way toward elucidating the concept of the piece. The performers delivered on their promise of a gradual progression from darkness to light, ending the piece in a percussive flurry of activity.

Miguel del Aguila’s Wind Quintet No. 2 is a popular, unique work that ended the concert with a mix of familiar and unusual sounds. The piece is full of extended techniques, such as striking the mouthpiece of the French horn, pressing the flute keys without providing air, and playing on only the mouthpiece of the flute; therefore, when conventional techniques occur, they stand out and provide harmonic backbone. Imani Winds performed well, but the “special effects” of the work bordered on kitsch—like the darkened room and partially offstage quintet for the “Under the Earth” movement. Still, the del Aguila capped off a concert of interesting programming that showcased the full range—and then some—of wind instruments’ capabilities, in the expert hands of fine musicians.

Imani Winds serve up energy in UC debut

Imani Winds serve up energy in UC debut

Imani Winds serve up energy in UC debut - January 23, 2017

The presidential inauguration wasn’t the only changing of the guard to take place yesterday.

The Imani Winds made their debut in the University of Chicago Presents series Friday night at Mandel Hall. As the new Don Michael Randel Ensemble in Residence, Imani follows the Pacifica Quartet, who were UC’s ensemble in residence for 18 years.

Following the superb and popular Pacifica Quartet in that post is no easy feat, and the new ensemble’s debut was made more difficult by circumstances. Imani flutist Valerie Coleman injured her shoulder earlier this week and was unable to perform. Fortunately, Tim Munro was available and, as one of Chicago’s most deft and versatile musicians, the Australian flutist filled in gracefully, as if he had been playing with the other Imani members for years.

The Imani Winds’ appointment comes at what seems like a time of transition for the University of Chicago’s venerable music series, now in its 73rd season. The series’ long-running Sunday chamber concerts were quietly eliminated last year; jazz programs have increased exponentially in recent seasons; and finally the music department has elected to replace a highly acclaimed classical string quartet with a lesser-known crossover group whose commitment to classical repertoire seems like an open question. Despite assurances from officials, it’s not hard to see why there has been growing concern among audience members that core classical repertory is in danger of losing its preeminence at these UC concerts.

Of the six works on the Imani program only two could be called classical, and those took up just 18 minutes of the evening, feeling somewhat obligatory. The rest were cast in a kind of populist, jazz-blended idiom. Nothing wrong with that but most of the music seemed more appropriate for the Jazz at Logan side of UC Presents rather than what is supposed to be itsclassical series.

That said, the Imani Winds made a largely admirable showing in their Mandel Hall debut. The selections were prefaced by introductions from Imani’s engaging members, the playing was lively and energetic and the group showed themselves capable musicians and, in the case of oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz and clarinetist Mark Dover, considerably more than that.

Imani also benefits from having two composers in the group. Hornist Jeff Scott’s Startin’ Sumthin’got the evening off to a fizzing start, segueing from short phrases broken up by rests into uptempo, syncopated drive.

Valerie Coleman’s Rubispheres No. 1 is a wind trio, cast in three parts for flute, clarinet and bassoon. As with many jazz-influenced pieces, the outer movements (“DROM” and “Revival”) center on fast riffs batted back and forth between the players, and Munro, Dover and bassoonist Monica Ellis were up to all the populist challenges. A more subdued middle Serenade offers an introspective lullaby, inspired by Coleman’s daughter.

While the playing was game and committed, it was also rough in tuttis and often fuzzy, neither as polished nor as blended as one would expect from any standard classical group.

Elliott Carter’s microbial Woodwind Quintet No. 1 is one of his earliest and most approachable works. While the Imani members threw off the bravura sections with impressive fire, one couldn’t help thinking that more concentrated and precise playing would have made a stronger impact in this 8-minute miniature.

Similarly in Ruth Crawford Seeger’s forward-looking Suite for Wind Quintet, the playing was alert to Seeger’s mix of mordant serialism with galumphing energy. But here too the playing felt too generalized, lacking refinement in tuttis and with little dynamic nuance.

Even in their home repertory, one wanted more polish and focused expression.  Paquito d’Rivera’sKites was written for Imani, yet one felt there was more expressive potential and depth in these two movements inspired by Cuban life than the players conveyed, with the playing somewhat bland and dynamics hovering at a steady mezzoforte.

Bristling energy appears to be Imani’s forte and the closing Dance Mediterranea by Simon Shaheen (arranged by Jeff Scott), certainly served up a virtuosic showcase. The players blazed through the motoric, hard-charging music and the muezzin-like solos were handled with febrile flair and panache.

A bluesy arrangement of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” was the uptempo encore.

---Lawrence A. Johnson

       Philadephia Inquirer - Imani Winds stretches the sonic boundaries of the woodwind quintet   In terms of an ensemble profoundly shaking up a repertoire, the string quartet has the Kronos Quartet, and contemporary chamber music has had Speculum Musicae. The woodwind quintet right now is lucky to have Imani Winds, which played Sunday afternoon for what the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society said was the society's final concert in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Van Pelt Auditorium before the 400-seat hall is demolished for the next phase of museum renovations. (A museum spokesperson could not confirm plans for demolition.)  Imani itself is a bit remade these days. If the group's original concert here in January had not been snowed out, clarinetist Mariam Adam would have been with them. Mark Dover has now taken over, and Sunday he seemed a smart choice.  Imani has expanded the repertoire with commissions and new works penned by its own members. These works have stretched the genre into an entirely different universe of sound possibilities, and the whole realm was laid out for listeners Sunday. An abbreviated version of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade was probably the most traditional work Imani has done over its many years of playing here. The arrangement passed out the violin solos to various instruments, and gave Dover a chance to become the harp with deft flicks of clarinet glissando.  Imani used a fair amount of rubato in the Rimsky, and in other works flexibilities of all sorts flourished. Bassoonist Monica Ellis was all over her instrument, evoking a hard-rock electric guitar solo, in Anders Hillborg's Six Pieces for Wind Quintet (2007). It's hard to smile when you're playing a wind instrument, but all five managed it while trading solos in Paquito D'Rivera's A Farewell Mambo, where subtle rhythmic manipulations added a layer of swing. Pitch itself bent to the maqam, the Arabic scale, in Simon Shaheen's Dance Mediterranea, arranged by horn player Jeff Scott, where bass instruments repeated a pattern over which soprano ones whispered improvisatory-sounding solos.  Most impressive, all over, were the incredibly varied total ensemble sounds the group authored from piece to piece, and within pieces. There's a big, vivacious, steel-belt of a sound Imani gets when playing at the top of its lungs that is most appealing. It came at the end of the encore - "Go Tell It On the Mountain" arranged by flutist Valerie Coleman - and it's a sound all their own. As the group approaches the end of its second decade, this might be what triumph sounds like.  — Peter Dobrin, The Philadelphia Inquirer     
 
	 Original Article

In terms of an ensemble profoundly shaking up a repertoire, the string quartet has the Kronos Quartet, and contemporary chamber music has had Speculum Musicae. The woodwind quintet right now is lucky to have Imani Winds, which played Sunday afternoon for what the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society said was the society's final concert in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Van Pelt Auditorium before the 400-seat hall is demolished for the next phase of museum renovations. (A museum spokesperson could not confirm plans for demolition.)

Washington Post - An assured, polished concert from Imani Winds

Washington Post - An assured, polished concert from Imani Winds

It’s inevitable that, after 18 years, the spiky edges of the exuberance and artistic ­risk-taking that have characterized Imani Winds’ performances are being smoothed into a cool professional veneer. A quintet of skilled and spirited musicians, they were at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Thursday, playing expertly but more carefully than in the past.

Sarasota Herald Tribune - 'Bruits' means business

Sarasota Herald Tribune - 'Bruits' means business

Great credit must be given to the Imani Winds (Valerie Coleman, flute, Toyin Spellman Diaz, oboe, Marian Adam, clarinet, Jeff Scott, French horn, and Monica Ellis, bassoon) and the superb pianist Cory Smythe for a daring performance.

— Richard Storm, Sarasota Herald Tribune

Valerie Coleman's Bustling Compositions Spring to Life at Symphony Space

Valerie Coleman's Bustling Compositions Spring to Life at Symphony Space

If anybody deserves a lavish three-hour “composer portrait” concert, it’s Valerie Coleman. The esteemed Imani Winds flutist and founder got just that at Symphony Space in a program featuring her bandmates along with the Da Capo Chamber Players and other musicians.

— Lucid Culture

Imani winds more than a wind quintet

Imani winds more than a wind quintet


Their goal is simple: “to bring new people out to our concerts and pull people away from the string quartet with their ears.”
— Phil Drew, Troy Record
 

Imani Winds will bring wide-ranging repertoire to Music Hall concert

Imani Winds will bring wide-ranging repertoire to Music Hall concert


Formed in 1997, the Grammy-nominated quintet still boasts the same personnel and has a following on at least two continents.
— Geraldine Freedman, Schenectady Daily Gazette

Formed in 1997, the Grammy-nominated quintet still boasts the same personnel and has a following on at least two continents.
— Geraldine Freedman, Schenectady Daily Gazette

Imani Winds ensemble embraces a diversity of musical styles

Imani Winds ensemble embraces a diversity of musical styles


"Imani Winds isn’t your typical wind quintet. Although it plays the standard classical repertoire, it also sinks its teeth into jazz, Latino, African, Middle Eastern and any other style of music that strikes its fancy."
— George Bulanda, Detroit News
 

DSO, jazz artists unite for Miles Davis-Gil Evans event

DSO, jazz artists unite for Miles Davis-Gil Evans event


"Imani Winds, a woodwind sextet that has earned a reputation as one of the most important and versatile young chamber ensembles on the scene, makes two enticing appearances courtesy of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit."
— Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press