ABOUT THE ARTISTS
More than North America’s premier wind quintet, Imani Winds has established itself as one of the most successful chamber music ensembles in the United States. Since 1997, the Grammy-nominated quintet has carved out a distinct presence in the classical music world with its dynamic playing, culturally poignant programming, genre-blurring collaborations, and inspirational outreach programs. With two member-composers and a deep commitment to commissioning new work, the group is enriching the traditional wind quintet repertoire while meaningfully bridging European, American, African, and Latin American traditions.
Imani Winds has performed at most of this country’s major concert venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Disney Hall, and Kimmel Center. The group is frequently engaged by the premier chamber music series in Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Philadelphia, and New York, and has played virtually every major university performing arts series. Festivals include Chamber Music Northwest, Santa Fe, La Jolla, Virginia Arts Festival, Bravo! Vail, and Ravinia. The current season features several international tours, with debut appearances in France, China, and Brazil.
The group started its Legacy Commissioning Project in 2008, commissioning, premiering, and touring new works for woodwind quintet by established and emerging composers of diverse musical backgrounds. The Project has included world premieres by Alvin Singleton, Roberto Sierra, Jason Moran, Stefon Harris, Danilo Perez, Simon Shaheen, Wayne Shorter, and Paquito D’Rivera, who performed his piece with Imani in Alice Tully Hall as the culmination of the group’s residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Imani members Valerie Coleman and Jeff Scott both regularly contribute compositions and arrangements to the ensemble’s expanding repertoire, bringing new sounds and textures to the traditional instrumentation. The ensemble has also worked with luminaries such as bandoneonist Daniel Binelli, the Brubeck brothers, clarinetist David Shifrin, and pianists Gilbert Kalish and Shai Wosner.
Imani Winds has been featured twice on NPR’s All Things Considered, and has appeared on APM’s Saint Paul Sunday, NPR’s Performance Today, News and Notes with Ed Gordon, and BBC’s The World, as well as garnering frequent coverage in major music magazines and newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Their excellence has been recognized with the 2007 ASCAP Award and the 2002 CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, as well as the CMA/WQXR Award for their self-released debut CD Umoja. At the 2001 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, Imani Winds was selected as the first-ever Educational Residency Ensemble, in recognition of their musical ability and innovative programming.
The group participates in residencies throughout the country, giving master classes to thousands of students a year. In the summer of 2010 the ensemble launched its annual Chamber Music Festival, set on the Juilliard campus and bringing together young instrumentalists from across North America and beyond for an intense week of music exploration.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Jeff Scott has played in the orchestras of The Lion King, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Dance Theater of Harlem, and has recorded and toured with Barbra Streisand and Luther Vandross. In addition to playing French horn with Imani Winds, he composes and arranges for winds and jazz ensembles, and teaches horn at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
Startin’ Sumthin’is part of Jeff Scott’s Urban Classical Music Project, subtitled “The Gift of Life.” The piece utilizes each of the instruments in the quintet to its greatest advantage, and it is obvious that it was written with Imani Winds in mind. It combines classical virtuosity, jazz freedom, and pure whimsy.
Frederic Anthony Rzewski is an American composer and piano virtuoso. He studied with several major composers of the twentieth century — including Randall Thompson, Roger Sessions, Walter Piston, and Milton Babbitt — before traveling to Italy and Belgium and performing improvisatory music with piano and electronic instruments. Many of his works have political themes, including his well-known The People United Will Never Be Defeated (36 variations on the Sergio Ortega song El pueblo unido jamás será vencido).
Rzewski’s Sometimes was commissioned by Duke University in honor of the centenary of John Hope Franklin, a Duke professor and author of the authoritative African-American history From Slavery to Freedom. Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work. The piece is based on the melodies of spirituals.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a member of The Five (along with Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Alexander Borodin, and Modest Mussorgsky). Also known as the Mighty Handful, these were a group of Russian nationalist composers who spurned Western musical compositional techniques and sought to infuse their music with Russian harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements as well as Russian themes and folk tales. But after taking a teaching position at the Saint Petersburg Academy, Rimsky-Korsakov consciously educated himself in Western techniques such as counterpoint, and incorporated those techniques into his music. He became a master orchestrator, best known for his operas and orchestral compositions, including Scheherazade, a symphonic suite based on tales from The Arabian Nights. Although it is programmatic in nature, the suite does not follow any particular story. The composer wrote: “All I desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond a doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other and composed on the basis of themes common to all the four movements.” This arrangement for wind quintet of excerpts from the suite is by composer and clarinetist Jonathan Russell.
Before he was thirty years old, John Cage had experimented with Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system, studied with Henry Cowell at The New School, and written music for percussion using Cowell’s “prepared piano” with screws and felt strips inserted between the strings. He went on to become a major avant-garde force in music and art. He experimented with sounds that most considered nonmusical, and was among the first people to use tape recorders and phonographs in his compositions. His friend Morton Feldman introduced him to the abstract expressionists in New York City, and he was strongly influenced by Zen philosophy, including its aim of calm and silence. He is considered the inventor of indeterminacy, in which elements of the music (such as the order of movements, the duration of notes, or even the pitches) are not specified by the composer, but are decided by random events such as the throw of I Ching coins. His impact on contemporary music is immeasurable. The premiere of his famous 4'33" took place on the Maverick stage in 1952.
At the time he composed Music for Wind Instruments, Cage was working as a dance accompanist at UCLA and teaching at Mills College in the Bay Area. He met choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham at Mills, and the two became lifelong partners and collaborators.
The first movement, Trio, is scored for flute, clarinet, and bassoon. The texture is spare, with single notes separated by silences. Staccato notes contrast with legato passages.
The second movement, Duo, employs the two instruments that were left out of the first movement — French horn and oboe. A flowing horn theme is matched by the oboe, emphasizing the difference between the mellow horn tone and the nasal oboe. Melodies are mostly conjunct, moving from one note to an adjacent or nearby pitch with few wide leaps.
In the final movement, Quintet, the entire ensemble finally gets to play together. Sharply accented chords that last a fraction of a second are juxtaposed with lyrical runs. The work is highly virtuosic, requiring exact precision in unusual meters.
Maurice Ravel attended the Paris Conservatory, but his style did not meet that institution’s standards of what was acceptable musical composition. He submitted works to be considered for the Prix de Rome five times, none of which received the official stamp of approval. By 1905, the year of his fifth try for the prize, acceptance by the concert going public had already established him as an important composer, which embarrassed the Conservatory considerably. This “Ravel controversy” played an important part in the changing of the guard at the venerable French institution, with Ravel’s teacher, Gabriel Fauré — a less rigid, more forward-looking thinker — taking over the top position.
Like his older contemporary Debussy, Ravel is considered an Impressionist composer, although neither of them used or agreed with the term, saying it should be reserved for painters. In some ways, Ravel was more of an iconoclast than Debussy, since he insisted on using musical techniques which were strictly forbidden by the Académie (such as parallel fifths and parallel triads). Ravel sought to create sharp outlines, while Debussy deliberately blurred the edges. Where Debussy was solely concerned with the music’s effect on the heart, Ravel’s music appeals to the intellect as well as the senses. Stravinsky called him a “Swiss watchmaker.”
Ravel wrote Le Tombeau de Couperin in homage to François Couperin (1668-1733) and dedicated it to friends and family who had died in World War I. Ravel’s music emphasizes clarity of expression, as did that of the French Baroque composers. The piece’s transcription for wind quintet is especially appropriate, given Ravel’s fondness for wind instruments.
The Prelude has a ceaselessly moving line in a moderately slow rhythm and a faster melody line. The Fugue uses the precise form of a Baroque fugue, with a somewhat mournful tune. The Menuet is a graceful, courtly dance in 3/4 time in which a solo voice sings a lullaby-like song. The rigaudon is a Renaissance country dance from Southern France similar to the bourrée. Ravel gives it a bold, strutting feeling.
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
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Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg