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.