One of Western Australia's leading ensembles, Wind Quintet Plus will be taking to the Perth Concert Hall stage on Tuesday, 10 August for special one-off concert.

The ensemble - which consists of well-known musicians who have performed with the WA Symphony Orchestra, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra amongst many others - will perform a program of wind quintet favourites from Debussy, Edwards, Piazzolla and more.

We caught up with Wind Quintet Plus this week to learn more about the group's origins, the unique combination of percussion and wind instrument, and much more.

Tell us a bit about how the group came together?

Wind Quintet Plus have been playing together since 2007, originally under another name. The group was formed to explore and perform interesting wind quintet repertoire. We looked for composers that perhaps weren't as well-known in Australia, and that's how we got to know the wonderful music of Valerie Coleman. In 2018 the group expanded to include percussion. Keeping it in the family, our clarinettist Catherine Cahill’s partner is the acclaimed percussionist Paul Tanner. Paul joined us for some performances and we loved what his artistry, knowledge and experience brought to the ensemble. Since then we have been choosing and arranging repertoire to feature percussion. We particularly love having percussion in Latin American repertoire, in which it gives the music extra texture and groove, and French repertoire, in which it provides gorgeous additional tonal colours.

The ‘Plus' in our name refers to more than the addition of percussion to a wind quintet, although we are a group of six core members. It also signifies our passion for collaboration. WQ+ have worked with singers including renowned Australian soprano Sara Macliver for the 2021 Perth Festival. We've recently devised a new dramatised children's show based on Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes for this year’s AWESOME Festival, so we've been working with an actor/designer. In the future, Wind Quintet Plus would love to work with dancers, visual artists and digital artists to further explore creative possibilities with the ensemble.

What does the addition of percussion bring to the sound of the wind quintet?

It has allowed us to expand our tonal and textural range considerably. Paul Tanner specialises in playing vibraphone and marimba simultaneously, and this combination has become a cornerstone of the repertoire we now select to perform. When Paul first joined WQ+ he mainly added unpitched percussion to existing repertoire, but this has now developed into him transcribing orchestral works or piano parts for this vibraphone/marimba combination. This whole new world of instrumentation has brought so much orchestral dynamism to the ensemble—and adding percussion also allows the wind quintet a little more space to breathe!

Paul has lectured on world music at the UWA Conservatorium of Music. It’s been very helpful to have someone with his expertise in our ensemble bringing authenticity to the way we present these works.

What is the group’s approach to building meaningful audience connections?

During 2020, when COVID first hit Australia and there was no foreseeable point when live musical experiences might be able to resume in traditional venues, Wind Quintet Plus took music to suburban audiences. We played for people on front verges, even in the most stringent of social distancing situations with only one family on each lawn. When restrictions were eased a little and more people could gather together, we arranged house concerts and brought music to people that way. These concerts combined classical and contemporary repertoire so that there was a musical style that appealed to everyone. The response was so positive—audiences had missed experiencing live music and were grateful to have it available in their community.

WQ+ regularly perform education concerts, introducing instruments and musical concepts to primary school aged children and giving masterclasses and workshops to secondary school students. We feel strongly that music education is an important part of what we do, and another goal we’re committed to is making our music accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. One memorable performance was up in the West Australian Pilbara, playing our arrangement of the Icehouse classic Great Southern Land at sunset, complete with rainstick and frog guiros. The audience reaction to that was powerful; they loved that a song so familiar to them was presented by a chamber music ensemble in a way they weren’t expecting.

Music can be a social glue in the way it allows people to have shared experiences, and we think it’s important to provide that. We also want to give audiences new experiences, whether it be introducing world music to a classical music audience, or introducing classical music to a neighbourhood audience. We’re always trying to find a combination of both in our programs. We like to think that we’re helping audiences extend their comfort zone without ever leaving their seats.

Tell us a bit about the program you’ve chosen. What can audiences expect?

We've chosen this particular program to encompass a little bit of everything that Wind Quintet Plus do. We open with something that’s become a feature for us: Valerie Coleman’s Umoja, which means ‘unity’, which we love to play to bring us and the audience together. It’s written to celebrate the first day of Kwanzaa, and it opens with congas driving a happy, optimistic groove.

Our next piece is Ross Edwards’ five-movement work Laughing Moon, an Australian work with an earthy feel and a lot of energy. The fourth movement, ‘Moon Song’, is one of our favourites; it has some beautiful lyrical lines and it highlights each player as a soloist. The work is written for wind quintet, but Paul joins us on claves in the last movement, ‘Clapping Dance’. This element of percussion that Edwards wrote into the piece makes it a wonderful fit for our ensemble.

Audiences will be in for a treat with the next work, a French piece by Séjourné called Attraction written for vibraphone, marimba and recorded audio. This combination of percussion instruments is Paul’s specialty, so the opportunity to get to see him perform this piece is exciting.

Our French connection will continue with Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute performed by Diane Riddell, which will sound wonderful in the marvellous acoustic of the Perth Concert Hall. The program continues with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, originally arranged for wind quintet and piano. This is a new WQ+ transcription which we are really enjoying rehearsing, and our performance at this concert will be its world premiere. The vibraphone/marimba combination with wind instruments results in glorious blended tonal colours.

After we finish our French bracket, we travel to South America and this is where we have some fun. We enjoy playing Paquito d’Rivera’s music and the two works we’ve selected combine wind quintet and percussion, suiting us perfectly. It’s great to end the program with some dance music: we have the buoyant rhythms of the Wapango, Piazzolla’s gorgeous Milonga sin Palabras, a lively Venezuelan waltz, and the Cuban Contradanza to finish off. They’re such engaging pieces to listen to, and also a lot of fun to play: full of energy and memorable tunes. We can't wait to perform them!

Your repertoire contains everything from classic wind repertoire to reimagined contemporary works. What is it about this combination of instruments that makes this possible?

The combination of wind quintet with percussion has such interesting blending possibilities. Between us we have a wide range of timbres, extending to use piccolo, bass clarinet and cor anglais to create a wide variety of tonal colours. I think what particularly suits the repertoire is the fact that there can be punchy articulation and texture, but also beautiful, smooth, blended lines. Plus, basslines played on a bassoon are funky!

I think it's our attention to musical detail and our openness to playing diverse musical styles that makes it possible for Wind Quintet Plus to play such a wide variety of repertoire. We really hope audiences enjoy our concerts as much as we enjoy presenting them.

Catch Wind Quintet Plus live at Perth Concert Hall on Tuesday, 10 August. Book your tickets now.