Classical music is no longer the last bastion of white, upper-class Eurocentricity, and this week's Chamber Music Northwest concerts prove it: The featured ensemble, Imani Winds, is composed of African- and Latino-American musicians, still a rarity in the classical world. But what really makes them special is the way they combine instrumental virtuosity with creative originality, eclectic vision and an audience-friendly approach that engages everyone from veteran classical music geeks to newbies to kids.
This Thursday and Friday the quintet, abetted by the Orion String Quartet, will play the world premiere of Imani flutist-composer Valerie Coleman's nonet Aún Aquí ("Still Here").
On Monday and Tuesday, Imani will play another world premiere by another musician who busts the classical stereotype: Roberto Sierra, an affable Puerto Rican and one of America's most honored composers. Sierra's works range from taut modernism to winsome lyrical works. Most incorporate folk elements drawn from his Caribbean heritage. Such assimilation, Sierra says, is no different from what Mozart, Bartók and Beethoven did with folk tunes. "Nowadays, we have the world at our fingertips so we can access many different sources," Sierra says, but "that's not what makes a piece good or interesting. It's what you do with them."
That's true of his new Concierto de Cámara, which gets its world premiere in Portland. "I am from Puerto Rico—that's my milieu, my musical accent," he says, laughing. "That's who I am. In the last movement, for example, you will hear some rhythms and riffs that will sound evocative of salsa music," Sierra says, but "these rhythms are transformed into my own modern language."
It's rare enough for a composer to enlist one virtuoso ensemble, much less a pair, so Sierra took full advantage of the potent Miami and Imani chops to write a movement featuring individual instrumental showcases as well as others displaying both the groups' separate identities and their collaborative capacities.
Kaul Auditorium at Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., 771-1112. 8 pm Monday, July 21. Catlin Gabel School, 8825 SW Barnes Road, 294-6400. 8 pm Tuesday, July 22. $10-$43.