Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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

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