Imani Winds Helps Shape Multi-Year Residency Model

This article was originally published on the Duke Performances blog

For more than two decades, New York City-based and GRAMMY Award-nominated wind quintet Imani Winds has brought diversity, virtuosity, and vision to classical music. Join us on Sunday, March 27 for Imani Winds’ performance of A Woman’s Perspective, a program comprising six contemporary masterworks by women composers.

Over the past decade, the visiting artist program developed by Duke Performances and the Duke Music department has grown more and more sophisticated. Now, the multi-year artist-in-residence model is the envy of many other universities.

“Rather than have artists here for one week and cramming the itinerary, we discovered over time that real sympathy can built up between students, faculty, and visiting artists with multi-year residencies,” said Scott Lindroth, a professor of music and former vice provost for the arts, who developed the program with Duke Performances.

“Students have a chance to have that initial encounter, reflect on it, make revisions, recalibrate and then have more encounters with the visiting artists. And with professional musicians recording their dissertation compositions, they have pieces in their portfolio that they can use as professional calling cards. In that sense, it’s been really fabulous.”

Imani Winds is currently one of the ensembles working with composition students. They are the kind of ensemble that speaks many musical languages,” Lindroth remarked. “Some of them are accomplished improvisers. They are interested in theatrical kinds of performing — sometimes they sing, or they may recite text during the performance. They have a very expansive view of what musicians might do on stage. Artists with that kind of imagination and ability are invaluable to work with.”

On Sunday, March 27, Imani Winds will perform A Woman’s Perspective, comprising six contemporary masterworks by women composers. Tickets are on sale now.

“It’s not just the fact that we play our instruments well, which we do,” said Imani Winds member Toyin Spellman-Diaz. “But when you come to an Imani Winds concert, you’re seeing and hearing and experiencing a connectedness amongst the five of us that then transfers to the audience.”

And it transfers to the composition students as well. “It’s a real honor for us to be role models for a successful relationship. I think one of the things we’ve learned to do when we come into a university is to really hear the students, because that’s what happens in a good ensemble.”

“I was fortunate to experience through Imani Winds how music is very much a living organism that develops not just from paper to pen, or on your music notation software, but rather it comes to life through the performers.”

—Dayton Kinney, music composition PhD student

“We encourage composing students to try things—take an instrument out, change the dynamic, raise the octave, add more notes. We’re always looking for more notes,” Spellman- Diaz mused. “We are note junkies! It’s a real treat and a real honor to work with these students, and it’s not something we take lightly.”

Imani Winds will visit Duke two more times this spring. In addition to recording student works on March 27, 2022, they will perform A Woman’s Perspective, six contemporary masterworks by women composers. In September 2022, they will premiere works by Jeff Scott and Duke alumnus David Kirkland Garner.

“In my reading session with Imani Winds in 2019, they flawlessly read through a new composition I wrote for them,” said James Budinich, a music composition PhD student. “And they gave great feedback on my writing for each instrument: things that worked well, not so well, or ideas about how other timbres could complement the material I’ve already written for them.”

For his dissertation piece, Budinich will be working with members of Imani Winds along with soprano Mellissa Hughes, the percussion and piano quartet Yarn/Wire, and members of the Ciompi Quartet (Duke’s faculty string quartet-in-residence). Yarn/Wire will begin work with Duke Performances and Duke Music in February, and they’ll come back in late March or early April to record graduate student compositions.

On Friday, February 4, instrumental ensemble Yarn/Wire will make their Duke Performances debut with a free public performance. More info.

“Imani Winds agreed to be part of my dissertation,” said music composition PhD student Dayton Kinney. “The give-and-take working with Imani Winds and the Ciompi Quartet for my dissertation piece was a really wonderful experience. I was very fortunate to experience through them how music is very much a living organism that develops not just from paper to pen, or on your music notation software, but rather it comes to life through the performers. I would recommend this program to anybody.”

“I think this type of repeating engagement where an ensemble comes in six times over the course of two years and really develops a rapport with the students is pretty unique and sets the program apart,” shared Brian Valentyn, manager of campus and community initiatives at Duke Performances. “We have students who tell us this is a huge part of why they’re here.”

“We are deeply grateful for the collaboration with Duke Performances, Duke Arts, and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation for their support of these multi-year residencies,” said Stephen Jaffe, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Distinguished Professor of Music Composition. “To create the environment wherein contemporary music thrives has been our goal for many years.”

“Having such amazing recordings when they graduate—to say nothing of the imaginative process of learning and collaborating that the program allows—places our students at an advantage to enter the professional and very competitive world of music,” Jaffe added. “They are doing so as composers, as teachers, and as instigators of cultural life across the world.”