Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ClarinetFest in Porto (by Michael Webster)

I had the unexpected pleasure of serving as a last minute replacement on the judging panel of the Research Presentation Competition along with Julia Heinen and Mary Kantor. There could not have been more diversity of subject matter:

The Musical World of Aage Oxenvaad by Gregory Barrett
Chalumeau and Soprano: A Look at Antonio Caldara's "I'o t'offesi" by Elizabeth Crawford
Cavallini Years in Brazil: Which one? by Fernando José Silveira
An Analysis of Elliot Carter's "Gra" by Kenneth Long
A Quantitative Analysis to Demystify Reed Design by Blake McGee
Anatomy of the Clarinet by Stephen Fox (a finalist who was unable to attend)

In my mind, all of the presenters were prize winners, because I learned a huge amount of new information from each one of them. All of the lectures were well prepared and delivered. But we had to choose winners, so the panel, which was chaired by Jane Ellsworth, selected:

1) Fernando José Silveira
2) Gregory Barrett
Honorable Mention: Blake McGee

Probably because the venue was difficult to find, the audiences were small, but those who attended were very appreciative of the uniformly informative presentations. In future years, I recommend that ClarinetFest attendees try to fit a visit to the Research Presentation Competition into your schedule, because, if this year's competition is any indication, you will be richly rewarded.

Of the events that I attended (and I missed most of the evening events due to extreme fatigue), my favorites were:

Carlos Cordeiro played Stockhausen's Kleine Harlequin, which requires memorizing extremely difficult music, dressing in Commedia del Arte garb, and dancing while playing. The dancing includes notated rhythmic foot stomps, spinning, jumping, standing on tip toe, squatting, kneeling, sitting, marching, standing on one foot and many other moves, all while playing the clarinet. Carlos added some personal touches: tossing and catching his clarinet and an incredible leap from the ground to the stage. For all its virtuosity, the performance was most outstanding in its depiction of the changing moods of the protagonist, eliciting a chorus of bravos and four curtain calls.

Eric Mandat's recital contained his usual blend of clarinet virtuosity and compositional originality, including the world premiere of Four Tempers, assisted by his Southern Illinois colleague, percussionist Ron Coulter, and two of his graduate students, James Applegate and Paul Petrocelly, both playing bass clarinet. Eric played the solo clarinet and bass clarinet part and together the four gave a visceral account of this exciting new work.

This performance was followed by Oyuz Büyükberber playing his own works and improvising on both clarinet and bass clarinet. This Turkish musician has a huge imagination, broad tonal palette, and dazzling technique.

On the whimsical side, Clarinetes ad Libitum, provided intense enjoyment with a combination of fabulous clarinet playing in a variety of folk styles, singing, drumming, dancing and comedy. Accompanied by a percussionist, the four clarinetists all sang and drummed at times, but most importantly played with great virtuosity, and from memory. Particularly outstanding was the Eb clarinetist, but since the names were not on the program, I can't identify him.

Finally, the closing event, Orquestra Invicta All-Stars, brought ClarinetFest to a stirring and joyful conclusion. The group consisted of Antonio Saiote and 29 of his students and former students along with guest artist Justo Sanz. It was astonishing to hear arrangements in which every single player was called upon to play devilishly fast passages in perfect coordination with each other. The ensemble had no conductor, but rather was led at various times by motions from Maestro Saiote, who sat in the center, or from other players with leading voices. But my favorite aspect of the performance was the excellent blend and intonation of such a large number of players. It really created a magnificent sound. Mr. Saoite gave a touching closing speech in Portuguese and English, including bringing Guy de Plus to the stage to be honored. Saiote told the story of three masons who were asked what they were doing. The first said, "I'm laying a brick." The second said, "I'm building a wall." The third said, "I'm building a cathedral." Mr. Saiote has built a cathedral of clarinet playing in Portugal and deserves a huge accolade for his achievement.

Finally, a word of thanks to the employees of Casa Da Musica, especially Alvaro Campo, who helped the Webster Trio get oriented our first day there, gave us a tour of the building, and worked tirelessly throughout the week to help keep things running as smoothly as possible.

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