Imani Winds: A multicultural musical melange on Martha’s Vineyard

The Grammy-nominated Imani Winds quintet has performed in France, China, and Brazil, as well as at most major concert venues in the U.S. including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Disney Hall. — Photo courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society

The U.S. Ambassadors of Sound is how the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society (MVCMS) has dubbed The Imani Winds, the group that they are hosting for their next concert.

Based in New York, the quintet performs all over the world, presenting a repertoire that is global in scope. Imani means “faith” in Swahili.

For their one-night-only show at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Monday, July 23, the Imani Winds will present a program that includes a classic French composition, traditional klezmer music, jazz by a Cuban composer, and a contemporary piece that incorporates musical influences from the Middle East and Africa. Also on the program is an original composition by one of the Imani Winds two composer members that celebrates the life and work of Josephine Baker. The American born French singer, dancer, and actress whom the quintet has honored with this piece was herself an international ambassador of good will, as well as a civil rights figure.

“It will be our most eclectic program this year,” said Delores Stevens, MVCMS artistic director and pianist. “There is something for everyone.” She notes that the concert will also give audiences the rare opportunity to enjoy a performance by an all woodwind group. “When you think of chamber music you think string quartet or piano trio,” Ms. Stevens said. “But when you love them [woodwind ensembles] you love them.” Of the Grammy nominated Imani Winds, Ms. Stevens continued, “I think they’re creating music that is much more fascinating than what’s been in the literature before for a woodwind quintet.”

The quintet’s extensive touring schedule has taken them from France to China to Brazil, as well as to most of this country’s major concert venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Disney Hall. The four women and one man ensemble (on flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon) are of African American and Latin American ancestry and their mission is to bridge the boundaries of music, incorporating as many international styles and composers as possible. The group founded its Legacy Commissioning Project with a goal of commissioning, premiering, and touring new works by established and emerging composers of diverse musical backgrounds.

Among others, the quintet has collaborated and/or performed with artists ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to jazz legend Wayne Shorter and opened for, among others, Wynton Marsalis. The Imani Winds have appeared on NPR and been heralded by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Constantly in demand, the ensemble is only available for one show on the Vineyard, but music lovers can also get a sneak peek of the group at an open rehearsal on Monday morning at 11 am, before the evening performance.

Ms. Stevens will join the quintet for the evening’s third selection – “Sextet for piano and wind quintet” by seminal 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc. Ms. Stevens calls the three-movement piece almost cinematic in feel, describing it as “Rhythmical, very sexy, very French music. It’s become one of the chamber music masterpieces. For the woodwind quintet it’s a happy marriage. It’s very joyous music.”

An arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (popularized through Disney’s “Fantasia”) will round out the program.

The next concert in the MVCMS summer program will mark a return to more traditional chamber music. The show titled Bach-to-Bach-to-Bach will feature a selection of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and his two composer sons performed by six virtuoso musicians. For this concert, MVCMS will, for the first time, import a harpsichord from Boston that will be played by Ms. Stevens.

In another first for the MVCMS, on August 12, they will host a talk and performance titled “Why Do I Fly Without Wings or Feathers.” To be held at the Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Vineyard Haven, the free event will feature two expert panelists — an acclaimed psychoanalyst and a renowned pianist/composer who will explore the creative process in music and the arts.

Imani Winds will perform on Monday, July 23,, at 8 pm at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Tickets are $35, $30 with Island Club Card, and students are admitted free. A free open rehearsal will take place at 11 am. For more information, visit