Saturday, November 15, 2008

New York Times on Imani Winds: 'Sound of Woodwinds, Calling for Change'

Published: November 14, 2008
In “Afro,” the jaunty first movement of the sultry Concerto for Wind Quintet by Valerie Coleman, the music evokes Afro-Cuban song and percussion with wailing melodies that dance over ostinato patterns for horn and bassoon. This vibrant work illustrates several of the aims of Imani Winds, the woodwind quintet Ms. Coleman founded in 1997, which include expanding the limited repertory for woodwind quintet and exploring non-European traditions. But a larger goal is reflected in the group’s very makeup. Ms. Coleman, who is also Imani’s flutist, recruited musicians of black American and Hispanic heritage, since she felt that they were underrepresented in the classical music world.

And the figures back her up. A recent survey by the League of American Orchestras showed that blacks made up less than 2 percent of professional American orchestra musicians, while Latinos made up less than 3 percent. They are similarly underrepresented among chamber musicians and soloists. But that is slowly changing, thanks largely to the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit venture dedicated to increasing the presence of blacks and Hispanics in classical music as composers, performers and listeners. And other ensembles are emerging, like the Harlem Quartet, a string quartet consisting of first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition, the organization’s showcase event. There has also been a wave of new talent from Latin America, including the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who begins his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic next fall.

Imani Winds takes its name from a Swahili word for faith. Ms. Coleman and three of its other members are black: Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboist; Jeff Scott, French hornist; and Monica Ellis, bassoonist. Mariam Adam, the clarinetist, is half Mexican and half Egyptian. To celebrate its 10th anniversary last season, Imani began the Legacy Commissioning Project to produce new works by composers of black, Hispanic and Middle Eastern heritage. According to Sphinx, works by black and Hispanic composers represent less than 1 percent of the orchestral compositions performed in the United States each year. Aaron Dworkin, the founder and president of Sphinx, said that his organization has established a partnership with major orchestras to commission a new work annually from a minority composer. [Full Post]  [Aaron P. Dworkin (b. 1970) is profiled at]

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