by John Stoehr
The Imani Winds are what the classical world needs — fresh faces, fresh ideas, fresh perspectives, and little bit of glamor (OK, more than a little bit; the women were indeed dressed in lovely silvers and whites).
This woodwind quintet — flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, and French horn — performed Thursday during the Music in Time series. It illustrated what Music in Time is about — providing a major forum for new and new-ish works. Imani performed five works, a pair of which are by two from their own ranks. One was Jeff Scott, French horn. I don't remember the name, but it was an opening kind of piece with hints of jazz. The other was larger, a piece inspired by the life Josephine Baker by flutist Valerie Coleman.
As far as "new music" is concerned, it was the most exciting thing I've heard in a long time. It draws from various stylistic sources but was seamless in construction. It looked back to the rich heritage of Europe and America, but seemed written for our place in time. I wasn't conscious that I was listening to "new music." It didn't wear its newness on its sleeve; it wasn't earnest or self-conscious or seeming apologetic that it was new. But new is indeed what the Imani Winds are about: to increase the repertoire for the wind quintet, because so few composers wrote for that instrumentation and to show other talented African Americans what's possible, which I'll say is as new a way of thinking in classical music as it comes.
The quintet has embarked on an ambitious plan to commission 10 new works by 10 living composers. They invited the audience to lend a hand at building the repertoire and in effect stockpile the cultural capital contributed by African Americans. (You can find out more about that at their website.) Case in point is a piece by the great Wayne Shorter, the jazz saxophonist and composer. It was called Terra Incognita — a contemplative tapestry with slowly unfolding shades of color and texture.
It wasn't all new new music, though. As if to make sure you understood how virtuosic they are, Imani Winds then played a woodwind quintet piece by György Ligeti, a master composer of the 20th century. It was an exciting reading. Again, it sounded fresh. A cleansing gust of wind to wipe away the dusty cobwebs of ideology that have long cluttered the recital hall.
And as if to counterbalance the sunny and gregarious beginning of the concert, as if to establish the seriousness of their intent for those who may be skeptical ("seriousness" being the mark of the new par excellence in the last century), the Imani Winds reveled in the part of Ligeti's quintet that featured "ghost tones," or vibrations bouncing off vibrations triggered by clashing sonorities. A quick glance around the audience found some in the audience plugging their ears and others seeming to turn off hearing aids.
It was punk. Henry Rollins would have approved. So would the Bad Brains.