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Thrills and trills: Imani Winds plays music of MSU student composers

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The Imani Winds, a sextet of nationally acclaimed guest musicians visiting MSU last week, put themselves at the disposal of four student composers at a remarkable workshop on campus last week.

The group played and critiqued four students’ works, made gentle suggestions and gave them a sense of what it’s like to work with the world’s top musicians.

The students — Austin Netherton, Jonathan Kruger, Kiara Glekler and Kevin Thompson — were nervous at first, but the musicians quickly put them at ease, treating them as collaborators.

Glekler, a second-year composition student, came up with a dizzy waltz called “Delusional Nutcracker.” The music called for Imani Winds flutist Brandon Patrick George to play a lot of trills — oscillating tones that added to the plummeting effect.

“Are these half step trills or whole step trills?” George asked Glekler. Without being asked, he demonstrated both variants with scary, off-hand virtuosity. One version gave each note a tingly wobble; the other gave them more of a shudder.

Glekler laughed at the level of refinement she was facing

“I don’t know — half step, yeah,” she said.

The Imani Winds are a national and international force in the world of chamber music. They’ve toured all over the world and gotten attention from every high profile platforms there is, from NPR to the BBC and the New York Times.

The group recently got its highest honor yet —  a permanent presence in the classical music section of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Accomplished as the Imani Winds are, Monica Ellis, the bassoonist and a founding member, said the group brings its “A-game” to these student sessions.

“After doing this for over 20 years, it’s great to see that there is that much creativity happening at the college level and composers are still making their voice heard,” she said.

Now and then the quintet even discovers a piece at a student recital that is so compelling they absorb it into their own repertoire.

“Sometimes you think that everybody just wants to hear the famous composers, like Beethoven or Philip Glass,” Ellis said. “It’s exciting to see that composing is still a live, breathing, tangible act.”

The music is alive, all right. The Imani Winds just finished recording a live-wire CD, due out early next year, of work written especially for them by an A-list of American composers.

Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer wrote a piece for the Imani Winds that delves into Florida’s “stand your ground” law and was written during the trial of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Another piece, by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail, celebrates that composer’s Indian heritage. Another commission, by percussionist Andy Akiho, was inspired by the treatment of immigrants in detention camps.

“We ‘ve always felt that music should represent what is going on in the world, but now even more so,” Ellis said.

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