In its 18-year lifespan, Imani Winds has performed in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, along with other prestigious concert halls in North America and on four other continents.
The quintet has been nominated for Grammy Awards and has collaborated with top names in contemporary classical, jazz and other musical idioms.
Now, Imani Winds will be performing the final concert in the New Orleans Friends of Music’s 2015-16 season Monday in Tulane University’s Dixon Hall. It also will be in residence for two days prior to the concert, hosting and participating in several musical events.
The group was formed in the late 1990s by flautist and composer Valerie Coleman, who recruited bassoonist Monica Ellis; Toyin Spellman-Diaz on oboe; Mariam Adam on clarinet and Jeff Scott on French horn. All were graduates of prestigious music colleges in New York City, where they resided.
The quintet’s name, Ellis explained, comes from the Swahili word for “faith.”
“It was a great choice,” Ellis said. “She had the faith to start the group and make something like this happen, and it has really stuck over all these years.”
The original group stayed intact until just a few months ago. Adam, the clarinetist, left in January to pursue a solo career in Europe and was replaced by Mark Dover.
Imani plays “a contemporary take on classical music,” Ellis said. The great composers of the past, she noted, didn’t write pieces for wind quintets, so the two composers in the group, Coleman and Scott, have had to score new arrangements to accommodate the quintet’s instrumental makeup.
In addition to the newer arrangements of classical works, Imani Winds also incorporates elements of jazz, klezmer and other contemporary genres.
Among those with whom they have collaborated are renowned saxophonists Paquito D’Rivera and Wayne Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez and members of the famous Brubeck musical family.
Their repertoire also includes works of such well-known contemporary composers as Anders Hillborg, Simon Shaheen and the late Astor Piazzolla.
Monday’s program, titled “Tradition and the Experimental” (from a quote by Hillborg) will open with an original Coleman composition, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta,” reflecting on her family and childhood in the Deep South.
The next two pieces will be a Jonathan Russell arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” and a Jeff Scott arrangement of Piazzolla’s “Contrabajissimo.”
The second half of the program will include “Six Pieces for Wind Quintet” by Hillborg, “A Farewell Mambo” by D’Rivera and will conclude with “Dance Mediterranea,” a Shaheen piece also adapted by Scott.
During their three-day residency in New Orleans, Imani Winds will host a master class for members of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra at Loyola University on Saturday, a Sunday Youth Music Workshop at Tipitina’s Uptown and a NOLA ChamberFest Winner’s Master Class at Loyola later that same evening.
An hour before their Monday concert, they will host a NOLA ChamberFest pre-concert showcase. Ticket prices vary for the pre-concert showcase and the full concert.
“Residencies in the places we perform are very much a part of our tradition,” Ellis said. “We always try to have something for elementary kids to college students. We not only recognize that it’s good for the community, it’s also good for us. It gives us a chance to talk to people and get into the community in one way or another.”