Imani Winds – Program Notes

Season Listing | Program | Program Notes | Biography

Jeff Scott

Startin Sumthin (note by Jeff Scott)
Born 1967, Queens, NY

Startin Sumthin is a modern take on the genre of Ragtime music.  With an emphasis on ragged! The defining characteristic of Ragtime music is a specific type of syncopation in which melodic accents occur between metrical beats. This results in a melody that seems to be avoiding some metrical beats of the accompaniment by emphasizing notes that either anticipate or follow the beat. The ultimate (and intended) effect on the listener is actually to accentuate the beat, thereby inducing the listener to move to the music. Scott Joplin, the composer/pianist known as the “King of Ragtime”, called the effect “weird and intoxicating.”

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Scheherazade, arr. by Jonathan Russell (note courtesy of the artist)
March 18th, 1844 – June 21, 1908

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov had a busy summer in 1888. He moved his family into a beautiful lake-house in Russia and completed the full scores to both Russian Easter and the symphonic tone poem Scheherazade, two of his most popular works.

In his notes on Scheherazade, he described how he vacillated between naming the four movements conventional names – “prelude, ballade, adagio and finale” – and more descriptive names that reflected the specific themes of “Arabian Nights”, the story the work was based on. In the end he settled on the musical terms, believing that the piece would be more effective if the pictures evoked by the music were left to the imagination of the listener.

Rimsky-Korsakov was a member of a group of Russian nationalist composers who called themselves “The Five” (or “The Mighty Handful”). Other members of The Five were Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Alexander Borodin. These men believed in using the themes, sounds, and traditions of their folklore in their music. Scheherazade is a perfect example of the nationalistic style.

Scheherazade is a character from “Arabian Nights”, a collection of Middle Eastern, West Asian and South Asian folk tales. She was the 1,000th wife of a Persian king who beheaded each new wife the day after he married her. Scheherazade actually volunteered to spend the night with this king and, as she was a master story teller, kept him enraptured with her tale for an entire evening. The king kept her alive for another day to hear more of her tales, and did this again and again for 1,000 nights. By the end of that time the king had genuinely fallen in love with Scheherazade and married her, and they lived out the rest of their days together.

This ambitious and virtuosic arrangement was done in 2013 by Jonathan Russell, especially for Imani Winds. Mr. Russell is an arranger, composer, conductor, and clarinetist.

Astor Piazzolla

Contrabajissimo, arr. by Jeff Scott (note by Jeff Scott)
Born March 11, 1921 in Par del Plata, Argentina
Died July 4, 1992 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Contrabajissimo was written by Astor Piazzolla as a feature for Hector Console, the bassist in his final quintet. This expansive work showcases Piazzolla’s ability to weave western classical and Tango music seamlessly. It was a work he considered to be one of his finest and for this reason was the only music performed at his funeral. In this arrangement the bassoon takes center stage with demanding solos and delicate duets with the flute and oboe.

György Ligeti

Sechs Bagatellen (notes by Eric Bromberger)
Born May 23, 1923 in Dicsoszentmarton, Hungary
Died June 12, 2006 in Vienna, Austria

György Ligeti received his training in Budapest but left Hungary in 1956 as the revolution was being crushed. As a composer in a strict communist regime, particularly during the repressive Stalin years, Ligeti had been bound by artistic restraints that limited the development of his work. With his flight to the West, Ligeti began to forge the individual style that has made him one of the leading composers of the avant-garde and an artist who has had a profound influence on music over the last three decades. His music sometimes obliterates traditional concepts of harmony and rhythm, and he has written for unusual groups of instruments, including his Poeme symphonique for 100 metronomes, each set at a different speed. American audiences are probably most familiar with the Kyrie from his Requiem (written 1963-65), for this complex five-part fugue for choir was used as part of the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001.

The Sechs Bagatellen for woodwind quintet date from 1953, while Ligeti was still in Budapest. These brief pieces are arrangements of movements from Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, a collection of eleven piano pieces, written over the previous two years.  Bagatelle is the French word for trifle; in music, it refers to a short instrumental piece-Beethoven’s Fur Elise is one of his bagatelles for piano. Ligeti’s Sechs Bagatellen last a total of just over ten minutes. The pieces themselves require little comment; the harmonic language remains tonal, and the writing for winds is deft and idiomatic. Particularly noteworthy is the fifth, titled Bela Bartok: In Memoriam.  This brief piece, written in the manner of Bartok’s “night-music,” is Ligeti’s homage to his countryman and fellow composer.

Six Bagatelles (notes by David Wright)

György Ligeti was born in Dicsoszentmaron (now Tirnaveni), Transylvania, in 1923, and died in Vienna. He composed a set of 11 piano pieces titled “Musica ricercata” in 1951-53, and in 1953 arranged six of them as Bagatelles for Wind Quintet.

Just about every moviegoer knows one piece by the Hungarian composer György Ligeti: the choral work Lux aeterna, whose unearthly chromatic strains accompany appearances of the enigmatic alien monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. In his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick turned back to Ligeti for a spooky-sounding passage from his piano suite Musica ricercata. The novelty of those musical sounds was what got the filmmaker’s attention; similarly, the creativity, and the ability to imagine everything afresh are what make all of Ligeti’s music so stimulating to fans of new music.

The term ricercar, as used by Renaissance composers, denoted a piece of learned counterpoint, a “study.” It has the same root as the English word “research.” Ligeti’s musica ricercata, composed in 1951-53 – six of whose 11 movements he immediately arranged as bagatelles (i.e., short pieces, or trifles) for wind quintet – was a piece of fundamental research indeed, as he explained in a 1968 article:

“About 1950 I realize that further development of the post-Bartok style in which I had been composing was not the way forward for me. I was 27 years old and living in Budapest, completely isolated [by the Communist regime] from all the ideas, trends and techniques of composition which developed in Western Europe after the war…”

“In 1951, I started to experiment with simple structures of rhythm and sound in order, in a manner of speaking, to build up a new music from nothing. My method was Cartesian to the extent that I considered all the music which I already knew and loved as not binding on me – even as invalid. I asked myself: what can I do with a single note? what can I do with its octave? what with one interval? what with two intervals? What with definite rhythmic relationships which could form the foundation of a whole based on rhythm and interval? In this way several small pieces were composed, chiefly for piano. From these questions and the attempt to solve them, certain characteristics appeared which were not wholly unconnected with serial ideas [i.e., the 12-tone methods of Schoenberg and Webern]. This seems to me remarkable since I arrived at them from a completely different starting point and via a completely different path…”

“The isolation in which I was forced to work condemned me, however, in spite of my imagined release from myself, to failure, since the Bartokian idiom with which I was intimate still showed through as a stylistic characteristic, in spite of the fact that it had not previously been predominant in my music.”

Mr. Ligeti doesn’t give himself enough credit here. True, the last two Bagatelles are quite Barok-like – in fact, the Adagio is subtitled “Bela Bartok in memoriam” – but the earlier pieces, owing to each one’s fixation on a single idea, sound like “minimalism” a quarter century before that term was invented.

Sechs Bagatellen (excerpts from notes by unknown author)

Ligeti summarizes his creative philosophy: “Of course, I have no liking for anything expressly illustrative or programmatic, but that does not mean I defend myself against music that suggest associations. On the contrary, sounds and musical contexts continually bring to my mind the feeling of color, consistency, and visible or even testable form.  And on the other hand, color, form, material quality, and even abstract ideas involuntarily arouse in me musical conceptions. That explains the presence of so many ‘extra-musical’ features in my compositions. Sounding planes and masses, which may succeed, penetrate, or mingle with one another-floating networks that get torn up or entangled-wet, sticky, gelatinous, fibrous, dry, brittle, granular, and compact materials, shreds, curlicues, splinters, and traces of every sort-imaginary buildings, labyrinths, inscriptions, texts, dialogues, insects-states, events, processes, blendings, transformations, catastrophes, disintegrations, disappearances-all these are elements of this no-purist music.”

…When the these Bagatelles were premiered in Budapest (1956), the Hungarian government forbade the performance of the last movement because of its “dense chromaticism and frenzied expression” (in the score, Ligeti marked the final climax “as though insane”).


Reena Esmail

The Light is the Same (note by Reena Esmail)
Born 1983, Chicago, IL

Religions are many
But God is one
The lamps may be different
But the Light is the same

Like many people, I’ve spent the last few months trying to make sense of what is happening in our country and in our world. In my search for texts for a vocal piece I have been writing concurrently, I came across these wise words from the 13th century Sufi mystic poet, Rumi. He states so beautifully that, even if our methods for searching for meaning and happiness look very different, the things we seek are so similar.

This piece uses two Hindustani raags: Vachaspati and Yaman. Thebhav, the aesthetic of these raags are so different: Vachaspati is dark, brooding, complex and dense. Yaman is light and innocent. And yet, practically speaking, only one note is different between them. The melodies they generate and the way they move makes them feel worlds apart, and yet their notes are almost exactly the same. The piece begins in Vachaspati, in desolate, spare melodic lines. Slowly, as Yaman peeks through the dense harmonies, the two raags begin to weave together into a seamless composite.

Valerie Coleman

Tzigane (note by Valerie Coleman)
Born 1970, Louisville, KY

Tzigane (not to be confused with Ravel’s famous violin work of the same name) is a new work for wind quintet by Valerie Coleman, that celebrates the virtuosity of each member within the ensemble.  Written in the fall of 2011, Coleman was inspired by two occurrences: Imani Winds’ collaboration with Palestinian oud player Simon Shaheen, and her recent completion of ROMA, a work for wind ensemble celebrating the culture of the Romani people (commonly referred to as ‘gypsies’). The work itself represents the third installment within a series inspired by the combination of Romani and middle eastern  styles, the first two being a nonet for wind quintet and strings, and the previously mentioned wind ensemble.

Throughout the work, the bassoonist is scored to play a ‘low A’, which is typically not within the range of the bassoon, but is made possible with the insertion of a tube into the bell of the instrument, thereby extending the range. The work, however, is not about the unusual techniques, but rather stylized playing as Tzigane brings the same intensity and virtuosity found in gyspy violin to winds.  This means that a certain level of freedom and passion is required to bring each solo alive, while a constant undercurrent of rhythm would provide a source of drive. The result is a colorful, highly-charged journey within one substantial movement.