Cosmo Reed Quintet debuts new work by Milwaukee composers

UW-Milwaukee’s Cosmo Reed Quintet will create a work by UWM composers Barbara Howe, Gavin Roberts, Adam Taylor, Ben Piette, Eli Drews and Clark Hudec perform this week at UWM’s Fine Arts Recital Hall.

The Cosmo Quintet is composed of Samantha Carr (oboe), Catherine Dyer (saxophone), Rosalie Avery (bassoon), Jena Nahnsen (bass clarinet) and Lauren LaFond (clarinet). This quintet was formed by UWM Peck School of the Arts saxophone teacher Nicki Roman in 2021.

Reed quintets began to gain traction after a group of Dutch musicians formed the Calefax Reed Quintet 25 years ago. A saxophone and bass clarinet generally replace the flute and horn of the traditional wind quintet. The dynamics are extended and enhanced techniques can be used such as circular breathing and tongue clicking. New compositions often free the quintet from classical constraints. The result is a unique and exciting new sound.

The woods have a wide range of tones and timbres within their respective ranges. Since there is a limited repertoire of music already written for these small chamber groups, I asked Avery if the pieces created were written especially for them or if other wind pieces were easily transcribed.

I was surprised to learn that all of the pieces on Wednesday’s program are new, written for them by UWM composition students. The compositions were then read by the quintet with an exchange of ideas and suggestions. And then revision, more rehearsals and another “huddle” of musicians and composers.

We discussed transcriptions of other chamber music for a reed quintet. There are a few, but often the result may not play with the unique strengths and sounds of the reeds while losing what might have been unique with the original score. Over the past decade more music has been written for the largely modern reed quintet, using the timbres and tones unique to this group of instruments.

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The quintet is made up of musicians from Michigan, Iowa, West Virginia, and Wisconsin drawn to UWM by the excellence of its studio teachers. The Cosmo Reed Quintet will continue to offer gigs and play gigs in Milwaukee and beyond with a replacement for Nahnsen who is graduating and engaged in new work. The Quintet will play at a conference in Colorado in July.

Earning a living as a (new) musician is difficult. There are few places available in the orchestras, many sections remain predominantly male. While discouraging, Avery believes progress is being made and conditions are much better now than they were 10 years ago. But for his band members, it will mean an education and hopefully some extra income from gigs and gigs. They will continue to perform and compete.

I have heard the quintet several times. They have a wonderful tone and the concert promises to be exciting and rewarding. If you’ve never heard this combination of instruments before, this is a unique opportunity to hear the wonderful tones and timbres in an acoustically ideal space – the UWM Fine Arts Recital Hall.

Further information can be found on UWM’s concert website:

The concert will take place on Wednesday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the UWM Fine Arts Recital Hall.

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