Starting with an 18th-century quintet by Mozart and fast-forwarding to a brand-new composition from 2019, the Prismatic Winds ensemble is set to sketch how woodwind quintet repertoire has evolved over the centuries.
The ensemble, made up of music school faculty members from Brigham Young University-Idaho, performs Saturday at Walk Festival Hall, the penultimate recital of the Grand Teton Music Festival’s Community Concert Series.
To understand the wind ensemble, Adam Ballif, Prismatic Winds’ clarinetist, said to “think about a string quartet.” Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and other great composers of the 18th and 19th centuries used the classic combo of two violins, one viola and one cello to create some of the most profound and beautiful music in the Western canon. But, Ballif said, that instrumentation is “homogenous.” Its constituents vary in size, range and sonority, but they are otherwise subspecies of the same musical creature.
On the other hand, the instruments in the traditional wind quintet — flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon — produce sound in different ways, resulting in different voices, timbres, tones and characters. The clarinet is a single reed instrument; the oboe and bassoon double reeds; the French horn is made of brass, has valves and uses a mouthpiece like a trumpet or trombone; and the flute, one of the oldest musical instruments still in use today, is technically called an edge-blown aerophone that produces sound when air is blown across its open embouchure hole. The instruments are similar enough that their voices can blend quite nicely, but different enough that they also are capable of a tremendous range of effects.
“We’re lucky to have that variety,” Ballif said.
Prismatic Winds will demonstrate both aspects of the quintet with a short program titled “Development-Progression-Fusion.”
The opener, Mozart’s “Quintet for Piano and Winds,” catches the repertoire in its early developmental stage. The E-flat major quintet is grade-A Mozart at the height of his powers. It’s confident, sophisticated, witty and charming. Mozart himself called it “the best thing I have so far written in my life,” and Ballif called it “lovely” and “approachable.”
Worth noting in “Quintet for Piano and Winds” is the major role of the piano, with the oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon playing more symphonically than as equals. Prismatic Winds flutist Nadine Lake, will sit this piece out, and the Grand Teton Music Festival’s President and CEO Andrew Palmer Todd will man the piano.
Washington-born horn player-composer David Jones, a graduate from Brigham Young University-Idaho, will then show how music for the ensemble has progressed over the centuries. He takes full advantage of the quintet’s possibilities with his “Language Study: Nga naman pala po ba?,” a piece written on commission for Prismatic Winds.
Raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jones, like many young members of the faith, served a two-year mission, traveling in the Philippines. Each of the five movements of his “Language Study” seeks to evoke the meaning and spirit of Filipino words, said Ballif, who premiered the work with the quintet late last month in Idaho Falls.
“There are parts that are very melodic, and parts that are very not melodic,” he said. “It’s very varied in meter, uses extended techniques” — like multiphonics, in which the musician plays more than one note at the same time — “and there are some improvisational aspects.”
Todd and the piano will then return for a “Sextet in B-flat for Piano and Winds, op. 6” by English composer Gordon Percival Septimus Jacob (1895-1984), an incredibly prolific composer who today is dolefully unknown. A professor at the Royal College of Music in London and writer of many books and articles about music and music education, Jacob composed and arranged more than 700 works, including pieces for voice, piano, standard chamber ensembles and less orthodox groups, as well as orchestra and choir. His sextet dates from 1956, when it was written for the famous English horn player David Brain and his ensemble.
“It’s a wonderful piece,” Ballif said, calling it contemporary but tonal, impressionistic and evocative, somewhere in between Mozart’s foundational quintet and Jones’ modern take “with lots of different colors of the instruments.” Oboist Diane Soelberg doubles on English horn, expanding the group’s sonic possibilities even further.
Jeff Scott’s “Startin’ Sumthin’” wraps up the program with another work written by a young contemporary composer. Scott hails from Queens, New York, and over the past 25 years has played on Broadway, with Alvin Ailey and the Dancer Theater of Harlem, as well as with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He has toured with pop stars, joined jazz greats in the studio and arranged and composed for solo instrumentals and ensembles large and small.
His “Startin’ Sumthin’,” written for the Imani Winds, of which he is a founding member, is an example of “urban classical music,” his own personal fusion of his wide-ranging studies and experiences.
“It has pop and rock and jazz and blues and funk,” said Ballif, “all mixed into a woodwind quintet” or “fused,” if you will.
For free tickets and information about Prismatic Winds’ “Development-Progression-Fusion” concert, visit GTMF.org or call 733-1288. ￼