What is it? The fabulous Imani Winds teams up with the young wizards of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra for a vibrant modern concerto, followed by Brahms’ opulent first symphony.

Why see it? This is the first of two big gigs from the Spoleto Festival Orchestra. Joining them will be one of America’s most talked about chamber ensembles, the Imani Winds. The players perform the Concerto for Winds by David Newman, one of America’s up-and-coming composers. The Grammy-nominated Imani Winds is an all African-American quintet known for their virtuosity, ebullient style, and adventurous cross-genre programming. Newman’s classy music has an international following. Old-school orchestral buffs will get their kicks from Brahms’ lush and radiant Symphony No. 1 — a pillar of the orchestral repertoire that nobody gets tired of. With Maestro Emmanuel Villaume leading his “orchestra of virtuosos,” it should be an evening to remember.

Who should go? A sure bet for anybody on the prowl for the best of both old and new orchestral splendor — plus those curious about one of our most unique and dynamic chamber ensembles.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $10-$65 • 1 hour 45 min. • May 28 at 8 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • (843) 579-3100

The Best of Old and New: Newman plus Imani Winds plus Brahms equals a winning combination


Two big orchestral concerts each Spoleto? Well, after getting just that for the past few festivals, I guess it’s now official policy. And nobody’s complaining. Hey, it’s only natural to want more of a great thing.

The fabulous Spoleto Festival Orchestra — made up of tomorrow’s orchestral superstars — always sounds refined and juicy. Maestro Emmanuel Villaume gives them passionate free rein, while keeping them musically coherent.

Recent years have brought us scrumptious big-band feasts (and even partial cycles) of Mahler, Beethoven, and Brahms — among others. This year, we get the second installment of Villaume’s emerging Brahms cycle. Last year, we heard his crackling, brilliant fourth and final symphony. This time we’ll get to wallow in his lush and meticulously crafted Symphony No. 1.

Brahms — often his own worst enemy — felt the intimidating spirit of grandmaster Beethoven breathing down his neck as he struggled to birth his first symphony, which is one reason it took him over 20 years to complete it. He needn’t have worried, as the piece immediately nailed down the very status he’d been sweating out: that of Beethoven’s true successor as the standard-bearer for German symphonic music. Its opulent scoring (even for an orchestra no bigger than Beethoven’s), lyric intensity, and dramatic power make it a perennial audience favorite.

The program’s novelty factor will come with contemporary American composer David Newman’s Concerto for Winds. Doing collective “solo” honors will be the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds, a dazzling all-African-American quintet of classically accomplished woodwind virtuosos. They’re truly something special — I’ve heard them on NPR, as well as two of their dynamite CDs — and you won’t believe the perky yet profound perfection of their playing until you experience it for yourself.

Newman — a prolific and accomplished second-generation film composer — wrote this very different sort of concerto for the Long Beach Symphony (LBS) just last year. It was originally cast in six basic movements, with each of the first five showcasing a different solo instrument from the quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn). The grand finale brings all five instruments back to wrap things up collectively.

The work was introduced piecemeal, with the first five movements offered successively in each of the LBS’s regular-season concerts. The entire concerto — complete with sixth movement — was then premiered at the season finale. For that occasion, Newman added three more sections: a prelude, an interlude, and a coda. I presume we’ll hear those, too.

Reviews online wax enthusiastic — praising the piece’s vital energy, passionate lyricism, stylistic variety, and instrumental savvy. It seems almost made-to-order for the fabled Imani Winds.

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