Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

A Quintet of Fresh Winds

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

A Quintet of Fresh Winds

Article excerpt

In the tradition-bound world of classical music, change is often painfully slow. Musicians and audiences alike may resist even the most timid efforts to broaden the genre's parameters and more often than not are inclined to seek the comforting reassurance of time-honed conventions.

But when the New World rather than the Old is the artistic focus, a universe of possibilities opens up. Forget Paris and Vienna. The road map the Quintet of the Americas follows eschews the bastions of the European classical tradition for an off-the-beaten path tour of stylistic contrasts that stretches from Argentina's tango salons to the ceremonial encampments of the North American plains Indians.

"I think people are tired of going to a concert to hear only the predictable strains of Mozart and Beethoven," asserts quintet member Marco Granados. A native of Venezuela, Granados sharpened his skills as a classical musician on a European repertoire but today finds himself increasingly inspired by the largely unexplored musical idioms of this Hemisphere.

The woodwind quintet traces its lineage to Bogota's Orquesta Sinfonica de Colombia, where five of the symphony's principal players decided to organize a group that would be dedicated to presenting music from throughout the Americas via the distinctive instrumentation of the quintet: clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute and french horn. A formal part of European classical music for two centuries, the quintet format has proven to be remarkably flexible in adapting to the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic nuances of Western modern and folk styles.

The lone surviving founding member of the quintet, french horn player Barbara Oldham, arrived in Colombia in the mid-1970s to begin duty with the Symphonic Orchestra and soon found herself immersed in a society that has made a fine art out of cultural mixing. Forming the quintet in 1976 was a natural consequence for Oldham and a group of equally inspired young musicians who discovered their advanced technical skills could be applied to works of non-classical origin with artistically pleasing results. "Part of our reason to exist is to expose this kind of repertoire," Oldham explains. She cites works by such twentieth-century composers as Argentina's Alberto Ginastera and Julia Stilman; Mexico's Manuel Enriquez; Brazil's Heitor Villa-Lobos, Marlos Nobre, Oswaldo Lacerda and Pixinguinha; Ecuador's Diego Luzuriaga; and Puerto Rico's Roberto Sierra.

Matthew Sullivan, a member of the quintet for 11 years, is particularly enthusiastic about the group's musical mission. "As classical players," notes the former principal oboist with the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra, "we're trained to play anything that's put down in front of us, and that usually is something from the standard European repertoire. But I've found that it's every bit as fulfilling to perform a tango as it is to play something by Mozart." Bassoonist Thomas Novak, a recent addition to the quintet, finds the change of pace refreshing. "The music is very intriguing," he states, "and the cross-cultural aspect of it is quite important. This is a good example of how music can bridge cultures and lead to better understanding among people throughout the Hemispheres."

Flautist Granados has proven to be an uncommonly resourceful contributor to the quintet's musical evolution. A veteran soloist with such prestigious organizations as the New York Symphony Orchestra and the Juilliard Chamber Orchestra and a featured artist with the Venezuelan and Maracaibo Symphonies, Granados benefited from early personal exposure to Latin American idioms. …

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