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A meeting with...

Imani Winds

Imani Winds @Shervin Lainez

Imani Winds at Bourgie Hall: Conversation with Monica Ellis

Bourgie Hall welcomes the wind quintet Imani Winds for a concert entitled Black and Brown which will take place on February 1st, at 7:30 p.m. We caught up via Zoom with Monica Ellis, bassoonist and founding member of Imani Winds, just a few days before the group's appearance in Montreal to find out more about the event.

Imani Winds: Tearing Down Boundaries

This two-time Grammy-nominated ensemble revolutionized the wind quintet through its vibrant playing and audacious programming that highlights contemporary works by women and Afro-American composers. This concert will feature five exceptional musicians, all accomplished virtuosos who received a high-level training in the best music schools in the United States. They will perform six works by composers of diverse origins, in which Western classical music, jazz, soul, as well as Latin-American accents and Afro-American influences harmoniously blend.


The diverse backgrounds of the members themselves allow them to push the boundaries of the wind quintet. According to Ellis, although the contemporary repertoire they typically perform is firmly rooted in Western playing techniques, the group stands out for its profound affinity towards a wide range of musical styles. Imani Winds has strived to nurture this flexibility and adaptability in their musical practice, and which also brings them tremendous joy when performing together.

Exploring A Daring And Novel Repertoire

The group explores a daring repertoire that goes off the beaten track. This search for a distinct sound and new, exciting voices is part of Imani Winds’ DNA. As Ellis explains: “What do you have to say that makes your music and creative output stand out from somebody else’s? You shouldn't do things differently just for the sake of doing things differently: it truly has to matter to you. What kind of impact is it going to have?” This notion of impact, this desire to change things and make a difference, is at the core of what they do. The ensemble also tackles various misconceptions regarding today's music: after all, if classical music, ranging from Bach to Wagner to Mozart and Brahms, is immensely varied, contemporary music is just as diverse.

Giving A Voice to Black And Brown Artists

Since the founding of Imani Winds almost 27 years ago, giving pride of place to music that is not traditionally heard on major international stages has been top of mind for the ensemble. According to Ellis, under the leadership of flutist Valerie Coleman, composer and founding member of the group, and whose work Rubisphere No. 1 will be heard during this concert, the idea of forming a quintet with non-white musicians, of offering a platform to celebrate underrepresented composers, was obvious from the start. But how is the choice of these composers made? Ellis explains: “When we ask a composer to write for us, it’s because their voice is already out there, and they’ve already done very interesting things we believe in.” The affinity towards a given composer, combined with hours of listening to works in order to get to know creators from multiple horizons, also serve as guidelines for their aesthetic choices.


The Works On The Program

The program for this concert is very diverse, both in terms of musical styles and themes broached. Several works focus on questions of identity: Giants by Carlos Simon paints a portrait of five emblematic African-American figures, represented in music as the composer imagines them. Other pieces address current social issues, among them immigration and racism. This is the case with BeLoud, BeLoved, BeLonging in three movements by Andi Akiho, in which Imani Winds creates a soundscape that bears witness to incarcerated individuals’ humanity.


These two works were both commissioned by Imani Winds. The audience will also be able to hear I Said What I Said by composer and singer Damien Geter: a very playful piece, with a constant driving rhythm, written specifically for the group. Among the other works on the program: excerpts from Aires Tropicales, by the celebrated Cuban jazz clarinetist and composer Paquito D’Rivera. The public will also be able to hear a magnificent piece by jazz pianist Billy Taylor, I Wish I Knew What It Feels To Be Free, which is essentially a very soulful, jazz-oriented pop tune on rhythm and blues, and which includes some wildly improvisational passages. Also featured: Rubispheres No. 1 by Valerie Coleman, a very virtuosic, challenging piece of music but which always comes back to the heart and soul.

Accessibility and Representativity

This program is also an opportunity to introduce chamber music to new listeners. Ellis emphatically affirms: “Representation matters! Music must represent people, and they should recognize themselves in what they see on stage.” Imani Winds has therefore become a model for young musicians from various backgrounds. This performance sparks curiosity, and attracts new audiences who have perhaps never stepped foot into a concert hall. For Imani Winds, the accessibility of their concerts remains paramount, and the works performed are easy to listen to. No prior musical knowledge is required to enjoy the experience: the listener learns little by little through the reflections and emotions that come with listening. As Ellis rightly points out: “Just let the music wash over you.”

Want to try something new? This event is for you!

The Program

The following works will be heard during the concert:

  • Damien Geter: I Said What I Said
  • Carlos Simon: Giants
  • Paquito D’Rivera: Excerpts from Aires Tropicales
  • Valerie Coleman: Rubispheres N° 1, for flute, clarinet and bassoon
  • Andy Akiho: BeLoud, BeLoved, BeLonging
  • Billy Taylor: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

Listen To Imani Winds In Concert

Imani Winds performs BeLoud, BeLoved, BeLonging by Andi Akiho.

Imani Winds & Andy Akiho Perform "BeLoud, BeLoved, BeLonging" | Kaufman Music Center

Imani Winds & Andy Akiho perform BeLoud, BeLoved, BeLonging at the Kaufman Music Center.

Bourgie Hall

Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1339 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec H3G 1G2

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