Imani Winds is joining the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music.
The New York-based woodwind quintet is expected to coach woodwind ensembles, work with students on shaping career possibilities, and offer individual instrumental lessons. Curtis operated mostly on a virtual basis in the 2020-21 school year but expects to have students back live in the fall.
Imani is familiar to Philadelphians through its many appearances with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society since 2003, and the group has been active at Curtis in coachings in the past few years.
The engagement, which is not a limited-time residency but an addition to the Curtis faculty, is slated to begin this fall.
“We’ve built a relationship with Curtis over the past five or six years,” said Toyin Spellman-Diaz, the group’s oboist. “At first it felt so unreal because of the reputation that Curtis was a place of elitism and not openness, and it was just the opposite of what we experienced there — which is a welcoming, open place for us to be able to become part of the fabric of the institution.”
Since its inception 25 years ago, Imani has served many residencies at colleges and universities, but this is the first time they have accepted a faculty spot as a group. Likewise, Curtis’ announcement says this is the school’s first-ever faculty wind quintet. (The Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet was made up of individual Curtis faculty members, but they were not on faculty as an ensemble.) The focus of Imani’s teaching and performing duties is expected to evolve.
“We look at this as a long-term appointment and increasing what they do over the course of the next few years, and working with them to figure out what kind of unique programming and experience they can bring to our students,” said Curtis dean Paul Bryan. “The sky’s the limit with that group.”
In addition to the Imani appointment, Curtis last week also announced that it has named an artistic director. Ed Gazouleas, a one-time violist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra who has taught at Curtis since 2017, will oversee areas including programmatic aspects of touring, technology, orchestral activities, concerts, commissioning projects, and guest artists.
Curtis president and CEO Roberto Díaz will continue to be the conservatory’s “ultimate artistic voice,” spokesperson Patricia Johnson said, adding that Gazouleas will provide “valuable counsel, and act as an available on-site resource for the school as Roberto increases his travel on Curtis matters.”
Even after Imani Winds settles in, the group will continue to tour and perform elsewhere. Tuesday evening the group named a new horn player. Kevin Newton, who is on faculty at the Manhattan School of Music’s precollege division, succeeds Jeff Scott. Imani’s 2021-22 season is booked with both pandemic make-up concerts and newly scheduled ones. In Brooklyn, they have plans to premiere a piece at an immigration detention center, and in Pittsburgh they are working on expanding chamber music audiences.
“It’s a super-busy year for us,” says bassoonist Monica Ellis.
Imani appealed to Curtis for a variety of reasons, Bryan said, including the way it has actively added to the woodwind repertoire through its commissioning and collaborations with a diverse roster of artists.
“One of the most exciting things they bring is the path they have charted for themselves,” he said. “Most students come to Curtis and believe their career will be as an orchestral player, and while we certainly don’t think they should give up on those kinds of thoughts, we do know there are increasingly meaningful and sustaining careers outside of the orchestra world. And I don’t think there is a group that has done that better than Imani.”