The Imani Winds swept through the NewMusic@ECU Festival on February 24 and 25, capturing the respect and affection of students and faculty during master classes and student composition readings, and displaying warmth and virtuosity at their concert at the A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall on Thursday night, February 25.
The first work on the program, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta” (2009), composed by group founder and flautist Valerie Coleman, showcased the good humor, camaraderie, and considerable abilities of the group. The audience snapped their fingers to a New Orleans jazz-inspired theme led by clarinetist Mariam Adam while Monica Ellis, bassoonist and daughter of late jazz saxophonist Clarence Oden, navigated brilliant scalar passages, all of which elicited enthusiastic applause.
"Homage to Duke" (2002), a work spun from Ellington’s "Come Sunday," was written by horn player Jeff Scott. Throughout the evening he leaped technicalities at a single bound, but in this work he showed a lyrical side, presenting the melody with beauty and sensitivity. Scott artfully set Duke’s motives in varied contexts, polyphonically and over chord clusters, yielding a fresh approach that was thoughtfully interpreted by the ensemble.
Oboist James Roe, although appearing only temporarily with Imani while Toyin Spellman-Diaz is on maternity leave, is an ideal match for the group’s generous spirit and talents. Roe introduced Karel Husa’s Five Poems (1994), a charming work that revolves around the life of birds, whose outer movements frame inner sections that highlight clarinet, oboe, and horn.
The audience returned from intermission to Elliott Carter’s Woodwind Quintet (1948), and surely the elder statesman of present day composers would have approved of the spirited and impeccable performance of his work.
The final work, Wind Quintet No. 2 (1994) by Miguel del Aguila, calls for extended techniques such as oboe and flute off-stage and the pairing of instruments with textless voice. Taken as a whole these procedures were effective, with a few possible exceptions. The A.J. Fletcher Hall did not yield a markedly altered sound for the off-stage oboe. And while the vocalizing was performed in good faith and with impeccable intonation, the effect that Aguila aims for may not be completely achieved by this particular procedure. On the other hand, the somewhat burlesque “In Heaven” was the most aurally novel of the movements, and perhaps the most enjoyable for that reason. By unique and various means each instrument begins as a source of percussive rhythmic sound, and only slowly does pitch emerge to eventually overtake the texture.
Imani Winds gave a spectacular performance, and the audience responded with enthusiasm. The standing ovation was rewarded with a fun and fleeting klezmer postscript featuring clarinetist Mariam Adam, and the evening closed with a convivial reception.
Performances related to the NewMusic@ECU Festival 10 continue through Sunday afternoon, February 28. Artists include Nathanial Bartlett, marimba; the ECU Newmusic Camerata; Nathan Williams, clarinet with Audrey Andrist, piano; and the ECU Symphony, Dr. Jorge Richter, conductor. For details, see our calendar.