CMNZ: Imani Winds

Imani Winds

Tuesday 26 September 2017, 7:30pm, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
presented by Chamber Music New Zealand

Red Clay and Mississippi DeltaValerie Coleman (b. 1970)
Selections from ScheherazadeNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) arr. Jonathan Russell
ContrabajissimoAstor Piazzolla (1921-1992) arr. Jeff Scott
Snapshots (CMNZ commission, World Premiere) –  Natalie Hunt (b. 1985) 
A Farewell Mambo – Paquito D’Rivera (b. 1948) 
Dance Mediterranea – Simon Shaheen (b. 1955) arr. Jeff Scott

Valerie Coleman, flute
Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe
Monica Ellis, bassoon
Jeff Scott, french horn
Mark Dover, clarinet

A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs


The short story (tldr):

This was an amazing, energetic, and eclectic concert of cross-over style and virtuosity. Each of the players introduced one piece in the programme with an energetic and friendly vocalisation of enthusiasm and it was not hard to see that the audience were won over. I was impressed by their tonal and dynamic control and the fluidity and the way they merged each style into the integrated whole.


The long story:

Rather than a blow by blow account of every piece in the concert, I would rather make some impressions about the whole event.

Firstly, the quintet were absolutely soloists in their own right – virtuosi! As a colleague reviewer mentioned to me, the quintet was not ‘blended’. Each had the own voice to contribute to the overall effect, not a rounded, bland sound but a individual and singular tone. The flute – brilliant and scintillating, the oboe acerbic and illuminating, the bassoon solid and secure, the french horn ranging from mellow to muscular and clarinet amorphous and alchemistical. 

Secondly, the players were committed practical musicians. I privileged to see Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe) and Monica Ellis (bassoon) conducting a masterclass at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music and they energetically inspired those students. Valerie Coleman (flute) and Jeff Scott (french horn) composed and arranged three of the six pieces on this programme. It was easy to see that the quintet were rejoicing in their activity of making music for a receptive audience.

And thirdly, Imani Winds were products of their culture and time – and they played correspondingly. New York is famed as a melting-pot of cultures, and the eclectic programme demonstrated that: Western Music traditions, Jazz, Americanism, Latin America forms, modern techniques, Middle East influences. Each of the players introduced one piece in the programme with an energetic and friendly vocalisation of enthusiasm and it was not hard to see that the audience were won over.

The most ‘classical’ piece on the programme was an arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade by Jonathan Russell. Obviously it was cut down from the orchestral version but it was a magnificent piece of wind writing and remarkable challenge for the quintet – and they excelled in it.  [In fact, I think I prefer tis version!]  The communication between the players was marvellous and, consequentially, the balance and the dynamics were exceptional. In the fourth movement, I was quite carried away by the tumultuous swells for the ‘storm at sea’ scene.

Imani Winds provided us with a world premiere piece – New Zealand composer Natalie Hunt’s Snapshots, inspired by her recent journey to Africa. She encouraged the players to take on several ‘percussion’ instruments too – rain sticks, a thunder drum and a wine glass. I liked the first movement particularly: the pedal note and the echoed effect by clarinet, flute and bassoon a response to the spaciousness of the desert in Namibia. The second movement, Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke Which Thunders), was an ethereal piece. I loved the way Natalie reinforced the oboe melody with matching pitches on the piccolo. The third movement was more ‘global’, expansive and explored more harmonic possibilities but it was so brief. I think ‘Snapshots‘ was an apt description – a taste, a fragment, an experience.

Four of the six pieces demonstrated a cross-over between Jazz and Western Classical styles, particularly Mark Dover‘s clarinet playing: glissandoes and pitch bends over the incredible range of his instrument. Clarinet is often used in Jazz bands, but it was instructive, interesting and educational to see the more ‘classical’ instruments lend themselves to Jazz styles. They did with aplomb – even the french horn!

Red Clay and Mississippi Delta by Valerie Coleman and Contrabajissimo by Astor Piazzolla were showcases for each instrument – their soloistic fluidity and dexterity.

At the beginning, D’Rivera‘s A Farewell Mambo was a random cascade of temporal and chromatic motives for each instrument, but they coalesced – a stretto – until they were playing octaves. I was reminded of Poulenc or Milhaud. Then the mambo rhythm was instigated by the bassoon and french horn and the piccolo and oboe had a triumphant melody while the clarinet had a full-blown jazz melody.

My personal highlight was the last piece: Dance Mediterranea by Simon Shaheen, arranged by the french horn player, Jeff Scott. Simon, an oud# player, was inspired by the many countries that have the Mediterranean Sea as their border – and the musical culture they engender. Multi-metered rhythms and Middle Eastern scales transported this piece to another level of aural perception. The arrangement was thick and cogent and every player had special moments to shine. The flute was outstanding: translucid and definite; the clarinet was ethnic Greek  – I was reminded of John Psathas Zeibekiko; and the oboe was almost a sorna* or a zurna* with bends and drop-offs – not is a Jazz sense but an oriental sense.  The final passage was exciting, thrilling and an ecstatic way to end the excellent concert.



# Oud – a short-neck lute-type, pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Persian, Greek, Turkish, Byzantine, Arabian, Armenian, North African, Somali and Middle Eastern music.

* Both of them are shawms, the predecessor of the oboe: sorna from Iran or Afghanistan, the zurna from Turkey, Greece and Armenia.



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