This woodwind quintet proves it has staying power
LENOX - Sitting center stage in a muggy theater, members of the Vento Chiaro woodwind quintet pounced on each note. The bass clarinetist swayed to the beat; the piccolo player’s crisp, high notes soared above the bee-bopping sound of the bassoonist.
They alternated from quirky to cheerful to discordant as they played “on seven-star-shoes,’’ by American composer Julia Wolfe. The 1985 work may be little known, but it is the type of piece this Boston-based quintet loves - multilayered, contemporary, and classical.
The group, which just completed its eighth consecutive year in residency at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, will perform Wednesday in Quincy’s free summer concert series.
Woodwind quintets are typically underdogs of the classical music world, a reality that Vento Chiaro understands. But the group’s members figure they have longevity - they were founded at Peabody Conservatory in 1997 - and daring on their side, as they try to make a mark with a repertoire composed mainly in the 20th and 21st centuries.
“They have had to depend on their own perseverance and energy. There are not many groups like them at all. They’re a success,’’ said David Fetter, a retired principal trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony and the group’s adviser during its infancy at Peabody. “How much more they can do, that remains to be seen.’’
The group’s members range from age 34 to 41. Joanna Goldstein, the flutist, prompted the group’s founding, and oboist Ana-Sofia “Sofie’’ Campesino and bassoonist Ellen Barnum were her first recruits. All three remain in the group, while the two other original members quit at different times.
Michelle Doyle has been the clarinetist since 2001, and Anne Howarth took over French horn this spring. The quintet has one CD, and performs formally 10 to 12 times a year.
“There are limited opportunities for woodwind quintets,’’ said H. Robert Reynolds, a conductor-in-residence at Boston University Tanglewood Institute and retired head of the University of Michigan’s winds department. “[Vento Chiaro is] among the better ones I’ve heard. They are a little more adventurous.’’
The group’s biggest challenge is finding enough venues for the music it prefers, said Campesino, who also teaches chamber music at Dana Hall School in Wellesley.
“We don’t want to get together and do a whole concert of Scott Joplin rags just because that’s what people might want to come to,’’ she said. “We want to find a way to combine that with music we really love, and the audience really loves. . . . We don’t want to be just pop.’’
The players said they stand through most of their performances to connect with audiences. Plus, the players said, they play and communicate better with each other when they stand vs. sit in chairs mostly hidden by a music stand.
They most recently performed July 16 inside the 19th century, Romanesque-style Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox. There, Wolfe introduced the group’s playing of “on seven-star shoes.’’ A founder of the nearby Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival in North Adams, Wolfe had worked with the quintet during its rehearsal earlier that day at the Tanglewood Institute. The piece, she said, was from a line in a German poem that speaks about a woman entering her tent on her “seven-star shoes.’’
“It’s kind of my Opus 1,’’ Wolfe told the audience. “I thank them for bringing it back to life.’’
Before Vento Chiaro asked if she could work with them at Tanglewood, Wolfe had never heard of the quintet.
“They’re good players. They’re emerging,’’ said Wolfe of the group after rehearsal. “It’s difficult to make your niche.’’
As their last piece in the program, the group played Quintette by Heitor Villa-Lobos, the late Brazilian composer, and as Barnum promised in the introduction, “It ends with this sort of primal scream.’’
The quintet is hopeful for its future, as each member juggles other work. Goldstein’s other job is teaching chamber music at Beaver Country Day in Brookline. Howarth, who lives in Somerville, teaches at Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, as well as other places, plays principal horn in the Plymouth Philharmonic, and is a member of the Radius Ensemble. Barnum, who plans to remain with the group, lives in Buffalo, where she teaches at Buffalo State College and her husband plays in the Buffalo Philharmonic. Doyle, who is unsure what she will do after her second child is born, teaches and lives in Michigan but returns to New England frequently to play second clarinet in the Nashua, N.H., symphony.
The group rehearses for four days every three weeks in Boston and will have a short residency at Providence College in October.
“We’re still on the rise,’’ Goldstein said. “We want to be doing more.’’
Vento Chiaro already has proven a lot, including that it has staying power, said Fetter, who heard their concert at the Lenox church. Usually, groups that come together as students don’t survive the school. “It’s remarkable. They’re their own managers,’’ he said. “They retain their good mood. It’s essential to the music that they have this sparkly mood.’’
Linda K. Wertheimer can be reached at Lkwert@gmail.com.