Up, up and away: Imani Winds

Written by Andrew Druckenbrod on .


 Imani WindsI remember when!

It was 2001 when I first interviewed Monica Ellis, the Pittsburgh-born, CAPA-trained bassoonist and member of the New York-based Imani Winds. Back then, the group was cutting its teeth on a tough circuit playing in small venues and schools around the state. It was hard work, but it showed the group that its more informal and entertaining approach to concerts and its broadening of the repertoire for wind quintet -- flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn -- could make a mark on audiences. Its members also were emboldened by their success to continue their goal of performing and promoting classical repertoire from the black cultural context.

In that first article on Imani (which means "faith" in Swahili) I felt the ensemble  had the substance of a group that could make waves and the look of one that understood the necessary marketing to do so: "With four attractive women no older than 30 years and a penchant for urban chic, this group could be the next Ahn Trio."

I am not typically the predicting type. In fact when I wrote that I kind of regretted it later -- more than anything because I hate to set up a group for failure. Not as if they read my writing on them, but in any case the musicians were not jinxed. A recent look at its myspace page shows upcoming concerts in France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Turkey! It's obvious the group has really exploded. Combine this with the Grammy nod for the album "The Classical Underground" and its Legacy Commissioning Project (which aims to expand the wind quintet repertoire with new works over the next five years) and you have yourself one amazing success story. I mean, who really thought that the group could really re-invent a genre and make a living doing it? I certainly can't honestly claim that.

Pittsburghers will get yet another chance to hear the group February 16 when the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society presents them at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland performing works by Husa, Ligeti and Piazzolla.



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