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.

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