Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ClarinetFest: Day 4

Saturday at ClarinetFest was another day of difficult choices, as so many incredible events were happening at one time.  I was sorry to miss the Festival Features concert (Peter Wright and Robert Spring, among others), but the distance of the venues made it hard to get back and forth quickly across campus.  I ended up staying in the area of the VPAC for Shannon Scott's lecture and performance of Boulez' Domaines, and Henri Bok's bass clarinet master class. 
Shannon Scott performing Boulez's Domaines

Scott, who has performed Domaines for Boulez himself, gave an interesting lecture about the piece and the various decisions the performer must make in order to perform it.  If I understood everything correctly, the piece has six "Cahiers" and each Cahier has a "Miroir" which is a reverse of the music in the corresponding Cahier.  The performer may choose which order to perform the Cahiers, each of which sits on a different stand, and then may choose the order of the six Miroirs as well.  The performance had a theatrical element as Scott stood in the middle of a circle of music stands, moving around to each stand and flipping over each Cahier or Miroir after she performed it. 

Near the beginning of his master class, Henri Bok picked up his bass clarinet and said: "This is not a clarinet.  The only thing it has in common with a clarinet is the name."  Many of us in the class were in agreement, having had experience with the differences between the two instruments.  Bok spoke about the open fingerings he uses for the altissimo register on bass, and noted that the upper clarion range can be stuffy.  He also coached students in performing the famous Bozza Ballade and a solo bass clarinet piece by Genzmer.  Bok's statement that "squeaks don't exist; just high notes" also got some laughs from the audience!

I began the afternoon with Caroline Hartig's recital in the Grand Salon.  It was hard to pass up Richie Hawley's master class and Philippe Cuper's lecture, but as a former student of hers I was really looking forward to Hartig's performance.  I certainly wasn't disappointed!  She won over quite a few new fans with her stellar performance of virtuosic show pieces by Bloch, Demersseman, and della Giacoma.  Hartig revised and edited the Demersseman Morceau de Concert and della Giacoma Cavalleria Rusticana, both works with beautiful, singing melodies and fluid scales and arpeggios--more notes than I thought was possible to fit in a half hour recital!  Such works are often dismissed as "flash and trash," but in Hartig's hands they made for a truly engaging and expressive performance.

The highlight of the entire festival, for me, was Philippe Berrod's performance of Boulez's Dialogue de l'hombre double in the Plaza del Sol hall. The piece involves a great deal of spatialization of sound, both by the performer moving around between music stands placed onstage, and the prerecorded tape part moving through the surround sound speakers.  It was quite incredible how the taped clarinet part seemed to rotate around the room and then seamlessly transition into Berrod's live playing.  Spotlights onstage further emphasized the "dialogue" between the live performer and his electronic "double."  I realize I may be biased due to my interest in music for clarinet and electronics, but I was absolutely blown away by the sound engineering, Berrod's execution of the difficult music, and the overall impact of the performance.  And I was not the only one - the small but appreciative audience gave Berrod four curtain calls.  Congratulations to Berrod and his sound engineer (from IRCAM in Paris, no less) for a sensational realization of this rarely performed piece of music.

At ClarinetFest, the action seemingly never ends, and next it was time for the Brahms Quintet with Joaquin Valdepeñas and the Aiana String Quartet in the Grand Salon.  Even with the best of players, performances of this lengthy work can sometimes sound uninspired or underrehearsed.  Not so with this group; their attention to nuance and detail made for a gorgeous performance from start to finish.

Though I wasn't sure if anything could top such an incredible day of performances, I headed to the Valley Performing Arts Center for the evening concerts of soloists with orchestra.  Unfortunately, Russian clarinetist Ivan Stolbov was unable to perform due to visa issues, so the concert began with an overture by Glinka in his honor.  Next, it was a treat to hear Naomi and Stanley Drucker perform Edward Thomas' Fantasy for Two Clarinets.  Philipe Cuper's Francaix Concerto was exciting and impressive, and the difficult orchestra part was handled well by the ClarinetFest orchestra and conductor John Roscigno.

The second half included Alcides Rodriguez's polished performance of Weber's Andante and Hungarian Rondo on bass clarinet, followed by Anthony Girard playing Merrer's Cercles dans le ciel for E-flat clarinet and orchestra.  Stanley Drucker captivated and charmed the audience with Rossini's Introduction, Theme, and Variations, and as an encore we were treated to Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee as performed by Rodriguez, Girard, Cuper, the Druckers, and Peter Wright with orchestra! 

On Saturday, I was so caught up in the exciting performances that I stopped taking pictures, so if you have some please e-mail and I will post them!  These ClarinetFest recaps are by no means definitive but simply represent my (probably biased) view of the festival and what I was able to attend.  It would be great to hear from our readers about your experience at ClarinetFest, especially since I had to leave before the Sunday events.  What were your favorite performances?  What did you learn?  Feel free to leave comments below.

I could not have been more impressed and pleased with this year's ClarinetFest, and I congratulate the I.C.A. and co-artistic directors Julia Heinen and Bill Powell for their hard work in bringing this level of clarinet artistry, pedagogy, and research together in one place.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

ClarinetFest: Day 3

I started off the day Friday with a dose of Berio, as Rocco Parisi performed the Sequenza IXc for bass clarinet on his morning recital.  Parisi collaborated with Berio to create the bass clarinet version and performed the world premiere, so it was certainly a special performance that had the audience cheering - even at 9:00 in the morning!
Rocco Parisi

Next, I attended a concert featuring works by Matthias Müller, played by an all-star ensemble including Robert Spring, Philippe Cuper, and Henri Bok. 
Matthias Müller and friends
Especially notable was the world premiere of L'histoire de la clarinette, which Müller said was inspired by his teacher Hans Stalder.  Stalder famously researched and recorded the first modern basset clarinet version of the Mozart concerto, but was also active in commissioning new works for clarinet. Müller's L'histoire was a stream-of-consciousness romp through clarinet history, with quotations from so many works it was impossible to catch them all.  I heard references to the Debussy Rhapsodie, Poulenc Sonata, Stravinsky Three Pieces, Messiaen's Quatuor, concertos of Nielsen, Mozart, and Molter, Berio Sequenza IX, Sutermeister Capriccio, and both Stravinsky and Piazzolla's "L'Histoire" pieces.  In the hands of someone less talented, this piece could have sounded trite or confused, but Müller's clever juxtaposition of elements and the incredible group of performers really made it work.

The day of bass clarinet in the Grand Salon continued with Eric Mandat performing a new work composed for himself and Edmund Welles, the bass clarinet quartet.  In five movements, Shadows from Flames was alternately beautiful and completely "metal".  It's a rocking work I definitely look forward to hearing again at some point.
Eric Mandat and Edmund Welles
I then headed over to the Plaza del Sol hall to hear Gerry Errante and D Gause performing as the Clarion Synthesis Duo.  It was great to hear William O. Smith's Duo for Clarinet and Tape, which is the first known piece written for clarinet and tape.  I was surprised to learn that no performer other than William O. Smith had previously performed it, according to Errante.  The concert also included new works by Craig Walsh and Larry Austin, the latter featuring incredible visuals by David Stout.
Clarion Synthesis

The Rico Bass Clarinet Blowout continued the bass clarinet madness in the Grand Salon.  Michael Norsworthy, Rocco Parisi, Richard Nunemaker, and Henri Bok each performed a solo bass clarinet piece, and Tim Bonenfant played a contrabass clarinet solo.  Judging by audience reaction, the biggest hit of the concert was the premiere of Arthur Gottschalk's The Kaleidoscopic Pocket Hockets Boogaloo for bass clarinet ensemble, which had lots of Herbie Hancock-inspired funk along with fun theatrical gestures by the performers.
Bass Clarinet Blow-Out

The sound of a bass clarinet quartet or choir is rarely heard and completely unique, so it was a real treat to hear so much bass clarinet in one day!  Hopefully these new works will be performed again in the future. 

I wasn't able to attend the evening concert on Friday, but I heard quite a bit of buzz about Robert Spring's performance of Black Dog as well as the works by Roger Zare and Frank Ticheli for clarinet and wind ensemble.  It sounded like quite a few people were experiencing "clarinet overload" and did not stay for the Eddie Daniels/Stéphane Chausse jazz concert, but those who did had a great time.  Were you there?  If so, please comment below with your thoughts!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

ClarinetFest: Day 2

As always, it is so easy to get behind in these reports when so much is going on!  On Thursday, I actually spent a lot of time away from campus, as I did a tour of the Rico factory and attended the Hollywood Bowl concert. But I started out the day at Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr's master class in Cypress Hall, which was very well-attended, and for good reason: the way she runs a master class is superb.
Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr master class
 Verdehr manages to give very specific suggestions to the player as well as discussing the big-picture concept of the piece, and at the same time the pedagogues in the audience can learn from her efficient, practical approach to teaching. I had a few favorite quotations:  "I want to turn out a thinking clarinet player when they leave my studio," and (on the second movement of Brahms' 2), "Viola players always do it in one, so I think we should do it in three."

Afterwards, I took some time to visit the exhibit hall and purchase some sheet music.  As usual, the hall was filled with clarinetists of all ages and nationalities trying out equipment, catching up with old friends, and making new ones.  Next, it was time for the Rico tour.  The Rico company offered several tours throughout the week, conveniently busing people to the nearby Rico factory and back.  There were about fifteen people on the tour with me, and as we arrived we saw some very cool reed artwork decorating the walls at the entrance to the factory.

Reed artwork at the Rico factory
The tour leader took us through a hallway lined with pictures of the company's history and reed-making process, starting with Joseph Rico himself.

Joseph Rico

Harvesting Arundo donax
From there, we toured the facility where the reeds are cut, sorted, and packaged.  I was surprised to find that Rico has musicians on the factory floor all day, measuring and playing reeds to check for quality.  For an inside look at the reed-making process, check out the video below.

After the tour, we were treated to refreshments and handed a goody bag, which included a free box of reeds, swab, mouthpiece cap, and some samples of the reed cane at various stages in the manufacturing process.  I don't mean to sound like a commercial for Rico as there are many other great reed companies out there, but in recent years I have been impressed with Rico's commitment to working with artists to continually improve their product, and this tour certainly reinforced that for me.

The buses for the Hollywood Bowl concert left at 5:30, which gave everyone plenty of time to eat once we got there.  Many people were picnicking with bottles of wine, and the location is simply beautiful.

Hollywood Bowl

 After a Nielsen overture, Kari Krikku came on stage to perform the Lindberg Concerto, which was written for him in 2002.  It was a truly remarkable performance of the piece, which is so technically demanding that "it makes the Nielsen sound easy," as a friend remarked to me that evening.  In the Concerto, Lindberg seamlessly integrates diverse elements such as jazz/blues, extended techniques, and "Oriental"-sounding scales, creating a work that is at once extremely referential but also abstract.  Next was Paul Meyer performing the Copland Concerto.  The opening was beautiful, but there were some ensemble problems here and there, perhaps caused by amplification issues (the soloists and orchestra were all amplified throughout the concert).  It was certainly remarkable to see thousands of people listening with rapt attention to these two clarinet concertos!  The Los Angeles Philharmonic then played Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite, and we got on the buses to return to CSUN.  Congratulations to Julia Heinen and William Powell on coordinating such an extraordinary event for ClarinetFest participants!

Friday, August 5, 2011

ClarinetFest 2011: Day One

Rachel here, reporting from ClarinetFest 2011 at Cal State Northridge!
Valley Performing Arts Center

Palm trees and orange groves really let you know that you're in California on this beautiful campus!  The weather has been sunny and a bit hot for the long walks between the dorms and the various concert venues, but personally I'm just glad to be avoiding the 110-degree heat back in Texas. 

I spent most of Wednesday preparing for and attending the Research Competition, as I was one of the finalists.  Topics ranged from Denner and Molter to Poulenc and Hindemith, and everyone had put a great deal of work into their presentations.  First prize went to Boja Kragulj (USA/Turkey), who presented about the "rock star" status of the clarinet in Turkey, and her studies with Serkan Cagri there.  David Kirby (U.K.) took second prize with his presentation about the Poulenc Sonata and the sixteen (!) editions published by Chester since its composition in 1962.  The panel of judges included Mary Kantor, Douglas Monroe, and Albert Rice, who is known to the clarinet world for his excellent books on the clarinet in the Baroque and Classical periods.  After each presentation, questions from the judge and the audience were taken, providing an opportunity for a dialogue in the room about each topic.

Heicke Fricke presenting about the "J.C. Denner" clarinet in the U.C. Berkeley collection
 The Wednesday evening concert featured rare U.S. performances by two of India's greatest clarinetists performing in the Indian classical music style.  In the first half, clarinetist A.K.C. Natarajan played music of South India along with a violinist and mridangam (percussion).  Next, Narasimhalu Vadavat played music of North India with violin and tabla.  All the musicians performed seated, cross-legged, on stage.  The amplified clarinet was very loud, especially in the first half, and I wondered what it would have sounded like if the musicians had not been amplified.  In addition to the incredible clarinet playing, highlights included the virtuoso tabla playing of Swapan Chaudhuri and the piece that Narasimhalu Vadavat played with the CalArts Balinese Gamelan Ensemble to conclude the concert.

Next, Stéphane Chausse played with a jazz combo for the welcome reception outside in the Valley Performing Arts Center courtyard, while everyone milled around and socialized. 

As always, it is impossible to attend all events so I welcome comments or guest posts from people who have things to add to my daily reports! 
One of the dorms on campus at CalState Northridge