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Imani Winds bridges the chamber music culture gap

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Chamber music quintet Imani Winds comes to Charleston for a Chamber Music Society concert Saturday. The group plays classical music but also works from contemporary composers that are influenced by Big Band, jazz, gypsy and Jewish folk music.
WANT TO GO?Imani WindsPresented by the Charleston Chamber Music SocietyWHEN: 7 p.m. SaturdayWHERE: Christ Church United Methodist, 1221 Quarrier St.TICKETS: Adults $17, students $5INFO: 304-344-5389 or, W.Va. -- Chamber music gets a bad rap, but even reluctant concert goers who attend concerts by the Imani Winds quintet are pleasantly surprised and energized by the ensemble's genre-busting mix of repertoire. When the nationally prominent quintet performs at 7 p.m. Saturday at Christ Church United Methodist, it will treat audiences to works from contemporary composers influenced by Big Band, jazz, gypsy and Jewish folk music mixed with classical pieces by Gyorgy Ligeti and Igor Stravinsky. The concert is part of the Charleston Chamber Music Society series."People expect classical music to be boring, not lively or interesting," said oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz. "So often in our audience there are wives who have heard of us and drag their husband. After every concert, we have those husbands come up to us and tell us that it was not what they expected and how much they enjoyed it." The five members of Imani Winds formed the group in 1997 when they were still classical music students who wanted to play music that appealed to people of all ages and interests. Imani Winds was the brainchild of flutist and composer Valerie Coleman, who was confident that the group was headed for fame.
"The rest of us thought we'd get together, play, then have cookies," Spellman-Diaz said. "Now we're all very ambitious for the group."How has the Grammy-nominated group stayed together for 15 years, traveling around the country and internationally together? "We all made the same commitment to each other. We share the same vision," she said.Spellman-Diaz, Coleman, clarinetist Mariam Adam, bassoonist Monica Ellis and French horn player Jeff Scott represent the standard components of a classical wind ensemble, but they're unusual in that each member is either African American or Latin.The concert opens with "Startin' Sumthing," a composition by Scott, who writes pieces for the ensemble. He's especially influenced by Argentinian tango music. He translated a Big Band sound to a wind ensemble piece for "Startin Sumthing."Imani Winds will also perform "Tzigane," a gyspy-influenced piece by Coleman, who also composed "Umoja," considered a signature piece for Imani.
"We were specifically requested to have more new works for this concert," Spellman-Diaz said of the Charleston concert.The four movements of "Cane" by Jason Moran portray the journey of his ancestor who was a slave and the influence of that family history on his development as a musician and person. Moran and Spellman-Diaz attended music school together."The piece has a lot of beauty and nobility. It's not at all heavy," she said. It contains a bit of jazz that hints at Moran's Louisiana childhood.Imani Winds commission composers whose unique pieces appeal to them. A recent commission was written by a Palestinian oud (a lute-like instrument) player.The approximately two-hour concert concludes with "Klezmer Dance," a music of Jewish celebration arranged by Gene Kavadio.Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230.
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