Five's Company

Ballet Not Your Thing? WindSync Offers a Twist on The Nutcracker and Other Favorites

The wind quintet teams up with singers and dancers for a non-traditional holiday program.

By Holly Beretto December 6, 2017

Casual 4 o84kmm

Ain't nothing stuffy happening here.

nine years after three rice students had an idea for a chamber group, WindSync has infused its performances with dramatic collaborations highlighting other musical artists, dance troupes and multimedia to set itself apart in Houston's music scene. Their fresh perspective on the canon and original compositions has become a hallmark of their fresh, youthful style.

As one of the few professional wind quintets (another is Imani Winds, over in New York), the group consists of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. One downside of the wind quintet is an almost non-existent repertoire, although that hasn't stopped WindSync from crafting their own arrangements to fit the group. Oh, and once they write their own music, they always memorize it, performing without sheet music concerts that occasionally feature the members dancing, singing, and wearing costumes. It's all part of a passionate commitment to making classical music approachable. 

That signature style will be on display for WindSync’s annual holiday concert this week, a gargantuan show titled Simple Gifts, featuring new arrangements of winter classics, backed with performances by International Voices Houston and Vitacca Vocational School of Dance.

“We did a presentation called Simple Gifts last year as well,” says Anni Hochhalter, the ensemble’s executive director and horn player. “And we thought the one thing that was missing was a choir. Bringing in International Voices of Houston this year really adds to the event. There’s such a diversity of works in the show; their vocal diversity lends itself to this.”

WindSync and Vitacca have collaborated twice before, Hochhalter says, noting that the rehearsal process for the show has been an terrific experience. It’s allowed the students at Vitacca to rehearse with live music and for all of the artists to watch the show evolve. In addition to the dance pieces throughout Simple Gift, Hochhalter says that the WindSync ensemble will have some choreography of its own.

One of the main highlights of the concert, however, will be WindSync’s arrangement of selections from The Nutcracker, a perfectly timed counterbalance to the Houston Ballet mainstay opening this weekend in Sugar Land.

“That’s one of the most fun pieces we get to play,” says Hochhalter. “When you think of The Nutcracker, you don’t think of it just for winds. And the choreography we have for it is wonderful.”

There is also a piece called "Tundra," which Hochhalter is excited about because she says there aren’t a lot of selections out there for voice and winds. She feels it’s a great showcase for both WindSync and International Voices.

“This is definitely the most complicated concert we’ve put together,” she says. “There are so many moving parts. And there is no time at all where any of the groups is on stage alone. We’ve really never done anything like this.”

She expects the show to be one audiences will warm to. Given the energy of the ensembles featured and the seasonal selections, Hochhalter feels it’s approachable to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

"The music of the season is so joyful,” she says. “We’re having a great time doing this.”

Simple Gifts, Dec. 9. Tickets from $10. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2525. More info and tickets at

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