Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ClarinetFest: Day 5

Sunday was Clarinet Choir Day at ClarinetFest.  Although weary from a long week of clarinet events, we made it back to Bates Recital Hall on Sunday to catch the clarinet choirs of the Dallas Wind Symphony and the Lone Star Wind Orchestra.  Our favorite piece (although we may be biased!) was the Enesco Romanian Rhapsody, arranged by Dennis Fisher (director of the UNT Symphonic Band) for the Dallas Wind Symphony clarinets with UNT professors James Gillespie and John Scott as soloists.  This work began slowly but gradually worked into a frenzy, with lots of great Romanian themes and an exciting finish.   The Lone Star Wind Orchestra then took the stage beginning their program with a world premiere performance of Christopher Tucker's Chester Fanfare,   followed by Jukka Linkola's Chalumeaux Suite, featuring exposed solo passages played by David Gonzalez on b-flat clarinet. Once again, time constraints did not allow the group to perform all the scheduled pieces; however, the last piece of the program showcased each instrument of the clarinet family, giving each section a chance to show off the multitude of talent within the group.

It was a hectic week and we didn't attend even half of what we would have liked to, but the Austin ClarinetFest was a well-attended, busy festival with quality programming.  Congratulations to Richard MacDowell and Nathan Williams for an incredible ClarinetFest 2010!

ClarinetFest Day 4

Arriving late to the 8:30am Festival Features #3 program due to a misunderstanding of the shuttle pick-up location, the first half of the program was unfortunately missed.  I (Kellie) finally got there in time to hear Jesse Krebs play Muczynski's Fantasy Trio.  Kreb's sonorous tone blended perfectly with the cellist, and great musicianship was demonstrated across the trio.  The rest of the morning program was nicely filled with various ensembles, with the program order changed to accommodate additional performers.  Next was the D2 Clarinet Duo, two Colombian clarinetists Mauricio Murcia and Jorge Andres Velez Ospina performing original compositions by Murcia himself.  The lively and energetic performance showcased traditional Colombian folk dances and added an authentic Latin flavor to the program. Added on to the program was a piece with unusual instrumentation for clarinet and hand-held drum. Although I couldn't hear the announcement of the performers' names or the piece, it was an interesting contemporary, yet melodically oriented work that is worthy of more performances.

Jesse Krebs, Kazuo Murakami, Mira Frisch
Clarinet and Hand Drum Duo

Mid-morning on Saturday at ClarinetFest was filled with performances of newer works, leaving many of us with difficult decisions to make!  Robert Spring and Jana Starling played at 10:30, and Richard Faria was to debut the winning piece of the ICA Composition Competition at 11, while Scott McAllister's lecture-recital "McAllister on McAllister" was scheduled from 10:30 to noon. He started a half-hour later to allow people to hear Robert Spring's performance, so I (Rachel) was able to catch Glen Hackbarth's Flux, Whitney Prince's Spin, and William O. Smith's Four Duets for Four Demi-Clarinets.  The Smith work was a world premiere written specifically for Spring and Starling, and featured each player performing on two halves of the clarinet at once.  Everyone was fascinated with the unique sound of the demi-clarinets, and the two players joked around on stage quite a bit.  The combination of their individual virtuosity and their dynamism as a pair makes their performances a complete joy to hear. 

Next, people filled a classroom to hear Scott McAllister's presentation about his life and work.  He shared the story of his promising career as a clarinetist which was cut short by a car accident that damaged his right hand.  McAllister said that after the accident, he began to focus on composition, and talked about the inspiration for such pieces as X, Black Dog, and Bling Bling.  He played X in its entirety as well as part of Bling Bling, and impressed everyone with his abilities as a clarinetist despite his injury.  He also offered some tips for clarinets working on his music, emphasizing that in his music, style and energy is more important than notes.
Scott McAllister

A highlight from the afternoon was Eric Mandat's premiere of his Three Studies, composed specifically for the celebration of Stanley Hasty's life and teaching.  This work featured an all-star clarinet ensemble of Hasty students with Eric Mandat conducting, and was based on etudes that Hasty used in his teaching.  The work was a great end to the afternoon-long celebration of clarinet legend Stanley Hasty.

The Saturday evening concert at Bass Concert Hall was a concerto concert, featuring soloists with the ClarinetFest Orchestra.  First was Alan Kay with an exciting performance of the lesser-known Busoni Concertino.  Then Philippe Cuper dazzled the audience with his rendition of Spohr's Concerto No. 2.  Probably one of the most difficult clarinet concertos, the piece frequently ascends to double high C, and demands great technical virtuosity from the soloist -- which Cuper certainly delivered.

The second half of the concert began with Sergoi Bosi playing two shorter Italian works for clarinet and orchestra.  He engaged the audience (and orchestra) with his confidence and expressive physical presence onstage.

The Copland Concerto is probably the most well-loved clarinet concerto of the twentieth century, and José Franch-Ballester's commanding performance was outstanding even at a ClarinetFest filled with great performances.  The appreciative audience was instantly on their feet to give him the old "Texas Stand-up"!

ClarinetFest Day 3

With all of the great programs scheduled during the festival, it's hard to choose which ones to attend and there is never enough time to take everything in. Taking the morning off from concerts to spending time to peruse the exhibit booths was a nice break.  With so many vendors to visit, it was easy to feel like a kid in a candy shop. All of the accessories, instruments, and music booths were divided amongst the three separate rooms, all of which were busy, sometimes filled with people elbow to elbow.  The cacophony of clarinet sounds coming from some of the rooms was deafening and it was necessary to step out into the hall to get a breather; however, the excitement was contagious and seeing so many familiar faces was more than welcoming.  Coming to festivals like this is a reminder of how friendly and personable the clarinet community is.
ClarinetFest 2010 Exhibit Hall

After spending more than nine years as a resident of Texas, I (Kellie) made it a point to see the Texas Artists-Teachers concert in the Bates Recital Hall.  A majority of the program consisted of chamber works starting with a light-hearted clarinet, flute, piano trio by Donald Draganski.  The next work was Rebecca Clarke's Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale for clarinet and viola with David Shea's dark and warm timbre blending nicely with violist Renee Skerik.

David Shea and Renee Skerik
The third piece, Ben Stonaker's Lachrymose (2010) for Clarinet (B-flat and Bass), Violin, and Viola, added a nice contemporary edge to the program.  The descriptive movement titles alone suggest the overall mood of the piece: "dust in a sunlit stairwell," "tiny fragments of things that were no longer there," "floating aimlessly," and "sinking slowly."  Multiphonics and other contemporary techniques were employed throughout the piece, adding to the overall effect of subtle texture and timbre changes.  At one point in the music Mary Alice Druhan removed her bass clarinet mouthpiece and blew into the neck, creating an eerie sound as she voiced notes with only her air stream.  

Mary Alice Druhan, Ute Miller, and Mark Miller
The next piece featuring clarinetist Richard Shanley lightened up the mood of the program. His trio played Libby Larsen's Barn Dances for flute, clarinet, and piano, which is a four-movement work inspired by cowboy dance steps, with the second movement being an homage to Gene Autry.  Always a standard piece at clarinet festivals, the Poulenc Sonata was then played by UT alumna Mary McKinney Schani.  The following Trio in B Minor by Edouard Destenay for clarinet, oboe, and piano showcased clarinetist Christopher Ayer's polished technique and lyricism alongside the spectacular piano playing by his wife Kae Hosoda-Ayer.

Christopher Ayer, Kae Hosoda-Ayer, John Goodall
Closing the concert, the Texas Clarinet Consort's jazzy tunes proved to be a great way to wrap up the program.  The second piece, "When I Fall in Love" was dedicated to the late David Etheridge, who passed away shortly after ClarinetFest began and will be greatly missed in the clarinet community.  Both the performers on stage and the audience could feel the sadness and loss through the group's tender rendition of the tune.  Following up with an upbeat Texas Clarinet Consort favorite, "A Toot in Ninesia," many giggles could be heard throughout the audience as the players themselves let loose and enjoyed the piece as much as the audience.
Texas Clarinet Consort: Robert Walzel, Raphael Sanders, Doug Storey, Gary Whitman, James Gillespie, John Scott
Meanwhile, the "Bass Clarinet Blow-Out" was happening in McCullough Theater.  Sponsored by Rico, the concert opened and closed with bass clarinet ensemble pieces, with solos and duos in between.  The first piece was an arrangement of Paquito D'Rivera's "Afro" from Aires Tropicales for five bass clarinets: Lawrie Bloom (USA), André Moisan (Canada), Rocco Parisi (Italy), Alcides Rodriguez (USA), and Pedro Rubio (Spain).  It was a nice arrangement, and though rhythmically challenging, the group performed it well.  Other highlights of the concert were André Moisan's performance of his own piece Quantum Leap for solo bass, and Lee Hyla's We Speak Etruscan for bass clarinet and bari sax, performed by Alcides Rodriguez and Nathan Nabb.  The concert concluded with a giant bass clarinet ensemble playing Michael Smetanin's exciting Ladder of Escape.  For all the bass clarinet enthusiasts in the audience, it was spectacular to hear these bass clarinetists all together on one concert.
Bass Concert Hall
The Friday evening concert at Bass Concert Hall featured the three famous clarinet quintets by Mozart, Weber, and Brahms, performed by the Grammy-winning Enso Quartet with three stellar clarinetists.  First was Franklin Cohen's rendition of the Mozart, then Greg Raden with the Weber, and Richie Hawley performing the Brahms.  Unfortunately, we were late getting to the hall in time to hear the first piece, but while waiting in the lobby to enter the concert hall, we could see and hear Franklin Cohen performing the Mozart Quintet with the Grammy nominated Enso String Quartet on a large-screen television.  Also piped into the bathrooms, it was clear even through the speaker system how beautiful Cohen's tone was.

After the exquisite melodies of the Mozart, Greg Raden took the stage to perform the Weber Quintet.  One would never guess that Raden and the quartet had only two rehearsals prior to the performance. The overall ensemble effect was impeccable as melodies were seamlessly passed between players.  To everyone's amazement the tempo of the last movement was quite swift, yet as usual, Raden's beautiful resonant tone and facile technique never faltered.

A change of program order placed the Brahms Quintet last and once again the Enso Quartet returned to the stage to play with Richie Hawley.  In this group, the seating arrangement was altered so that the clarinetist was on the outside right corner instead of the middle, and this created a noticeable difference in the balance of the group from where we were sitting.  Although Hawley was positioned away from us, it did not prevent his expressiveness and excellent musicianship from shining through.  The Enso Quartet exhibited an expressiveness and sensitivity rarely heard in live performance.  The level of musicianship of the players was enthralling, and audience turnout was probably the highest of any of the evening concerts.  This concert was a clear highlight of the entire conference.  
Greg Raden and the Enso Quartet

Saturday, July 24, 2010

ClarinetFest Day 2

In the first of three master classes scheduled in the Recital Studio, Dan Gilbert's central concept for the students focused on phrasing and how to approach it via tension and release.  The first two players performed orchestral excerpts in which Gilbert's coaching produced immediate improvements and offered the students a different method for understanding harmonic implications within the melodic lines.  He had the students play diatonic motives with emphasis and releases on specific notes, creating a more interesting and expressive musical line. Gilbert's approach and demeanor made the students very comfortable while on stage, and the entire master class felt like watching Gilbert teach a private lesson.
Dan Gilbert Master Class

The following master class by Donald Montanaro began with an explanation of Leopold Stokowski's new direction of the sound within the Philadelphia Orchestra's woodwind section.  His aim was to attain a blend of both French and German schools of playing by appointing Daniel Bonade (clarinet) and Marcel Tabuteau (oboe) as principle players combined with the German bassoon sound.  Monatanaro then further explained Tabuteau's method of assigning numbers to correspond with levels of dynamics and applying them within the phrases.  He also talked about tongue position and breathe attacks, demonstrating how the air stream should not be forced by the action of tongue. Keeping the audience engaged for over 45 minutes with interesting anecdotes and ideas, I (Kellie) had to leave before the students had a chance to perform.  Nonetheless, the master classes was great and offered many insights into approaches on phrasing and articulations.

Montanaro Master Class

One of the most exciting and energetic concerts of the day was the clarinet and guitar duo, Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet) and Peo Alfonsi (guitar), performing works composed by Mirabassi himself.  The program consisted of several improvisatory Latin-American pieces with the clarinetist hogging the spotlight with his glissandos and smears, along with his physical movements. Mirabassi's body language was definitely a good reflection of his playing style--free and flexible, yet arousing and demanding.  There were moments when the bell of his clarinet was inches away from the floor as he danced around the stage.  Not contrived or forced in the least bit, his movement was actually refreshing and his energy was highly contagious.  I left the concert feeling lighter on my feet, motivated to be more physically expressive with my own playing.
Gabriele Mirabassi and Peo Alfonsi

The evening concert was a three-part program with Victoria Luperi starting the night off with a wonderful performance of the Verdi/Lovreglio La Traviata: Fantasia da Concerto, followed by the Brahms Trio.  Both were charming performances, full of expression but with great integrity of tone. 
Victoria Luperi
Next came Ilya Shterenberg (principal clarinet of the San Antonio Symphony) with solid performances of the Schumann Fantasy Pieces, Scriabin Seven Preludes and Debussy Rhapsodie.  The Scriabin pieces were very short preludes arranged by Willard Elliot, and made good companion pieces to the Schumann Fantasy Pieces.  Shterenberg played with a beautiful full sound and great musicianship -- but a special mention must go to his stellar pianist Anne Epperson!

Ilya Shterenberg

Finally, the Chicago Clarinet Trio came on with a Divertimento on themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni followed by Defaye's delightful Six Pièces D'Audtion

Chicago Clarinet Trio

We were unable to stay for Michèle Gingras and the Cincinnati Klezmer Trio, but if you did please comment and let us know how it was.  We are trying to attend as many events as we can, but you can only handle so much clarinet in one day!

ClarinetFest: Day 2 (Clarinet + Electronics)

For me (Rachel), Thursday of ClarinetFest was a day of clarinet and electronics.  I performed on the Electronics Potpourri concert at 1 PM, so my morning was consumed with warming up and rehearsing the piece.  The dress rehearsal was fairly hectic, since everyone needed time in the hall, but each performer had different tech needs.  Some players used video, some performed with CD accompaniment, and others (like me) were doing interactive works with computer.  I think in the future it may be better to have everyone rehearse in order due to the complex tech changes between pieces, but it ended up working out fine.

During the concert, I had fun hanging out backstage with the other performers: Leslie Moreau, Michael Dean, Mauricio Salguero, Karen Dannessa, and Elizabeth Gunlogson.  My performance got off to a rocky start - I spent a couple of awkward minutes onstage while the sound engineer fixed a technical issue.  But these things are normal when performing interactive music, and after we got the piece running I think it was a successful performance!  One standout piece from the afternoon that clarinetists and composers seemed to really like was Samuel J. Hamm's piece fixion for clarinet and computer, played by Leslie Moreau.  Overall, it was great to experience ClarinetFest from a performer's perspective, and kudos to all the great volunteers coordinating the stage management!

After my concert I was able to stay to hear electronic gurus Gerry Errante and D. Gause perform works by Andrew May, Russell Pinkston, and Christopher Hopkins.  The afternoon of electronics continued with performances by Michael Lowenstern and  Laura Carmichael.  As a player with interest in the field, I thank Nathan Williams for coordinating this afternoon of music for clarinet and electronics, as it is a small but growing genre that is becoming more approachable as our computers become faster and more powerful. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ClarinetFest Day 1: Evening Concert

Kicking off the first evening concert of the festival, Mark Nuccio played a varied program of standard, jazzy, and lesser-performed works by composers of several different nationalities.  Beginning with the Poulenc Sonata, it was clear how deftly Nuccio could portray the changing moods of the piece, and his impressive control of pianissimo phrases floated to the back of the recital hall with a wave of silence across the audience.  The power and gravity displayed in the next piece, Jacques Hetu's Nocturne (Lento), lent a nice contrast to the French opener.  Prokofiev's Sonata was played with a rhythmic propulsion that sustained the piece's characteristic Russian sounds, and with each subsequent movement, the work gained further momentum to end with a stately and striking last movement.

After intermission, the program traveled to the Spanish sounds of Miguel Yuste.  Nuccio's playful rendition of Ingenuidad, Op. 8 was delightful and commenced the second half of the program very nicely.  Moving on to the Germanic roots of Berg's Four Pieces, Nuccio had numerous opportunities to shine with his flawless altissimo pianissimo entrances.  Wrapping up the concert was the Three Preludes by Gershwin.  Always a crowd-pleaser, it was very appropriate to end this global musical tour with these classic American tunes.  Once the audience's giggling subsided at at end of the first movement, the schmaltzy opening of the next movement proved that Nuccio was just a comfortable with playing jazz as he was classical.  Taking his bows to a standing ovation, Nuccio returned to the stage to play an encore of Scriabin's Op.11 with a smooth and flowing manner.  This short, but sweet piece left the audience headed toward the exit doors with smiles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ClarinetFest 2010: Day 1

Greetings to everyone in Austin, and following along at home!  The ClarinetFest has gotten off to a great start today, with clarinetists of all ages and nationalities descending upon the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas.  I (Rachel) arrived yesterday for a dress rehearsal of the piece for clarinet and computer I will be performing tomorrow, and was greeted by volunteers, technical assistants, and Nathan Williams himself who was making sure everything was running smoothly.  Things seem very organized so far, with great-looking program books and lots of volunteers helping out.

This afternoon, I was able to catch the Host Recital as well as Richard Nunemaker's performance.   The Host Recital began with Nathan Williams performing a new piece for clarinet and piano by Karim Al-Zand (Rice University), commissioned by a collective of clarinetists.  Titled Cabinet of Curiosities, the work at times took inspiration from dance rhythms (waltz, sarabande) but with unique twists and compelling sonorities.  Next was Richard MacDowell with Francaix's Theme and Variations, performed with great character and brave tempos!  Williams then played another new work, Cookbook by Kenji Bunch, a virtuosic set of movements about food.  The piece took a surprising turn at the end when the pianist AND the page turner began clapping and tapping rhythmically along with the clarinet!  Two standard works rounded out the program, Bartók's Contrasts (MacDowell) and Mendelssohn's Concert Piece No. 2 (MacDowell and Williams).  Overall, the new works were very well-received, and the crowd (which nearly filled Bates Recital Hall) was very appreciative of the hosts of ClarinetFest 2010. 

Next, I heard Richard Nunemaker's performance of Richard Lavenda's (Rice University) Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet.  This substantial work evoked Bartók in its motivic vitality and dissonant, angular sonorities.  Particularly nice was the second movement, which featured clarinet multiphonics in combination with string harmonics. 

There is so much going on here at ClarinetFest that Kellie and I can't possibly see and hear everything.  If you would like to share your ClarinetFest experience, please comment below or send us an e-mail!  Enjoy the festival!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blogging Live from ClarinetFest 2010

Clarinet Cache will be live blogging throughout the ClarinetFest 2010, July 21st-25th in Austin, Tx.  For those attending under the blazing-hot Texas sun, and for those who cannot make it, we will be reporting on concerts, presentations, master classes, and other scheduled events.  Since it is not possible to attend every event, we invite you to submit your own thoughts, experiences, and pictures of the festival.  With our live coverage we hope to share the exciting and memorable moments of ClarinetFest with everyone. Hope to see you there!