Wednesday, August 8, 2012

ClarinetFest Day 3

Rachel here.  I got up early on Friday at ClarinetFest to hear the recital of music for clarinet and electronics.  Stephan Vermeerch performed two pieces by Jane Brockman along with one of his own that utilized sensors.  After a couple pieces for clarinet and CD by Christy Banks and Gail Zugger, Matthew Miracle performed two interactive works for bass clarinet and computer.  Shovelhead by Steven Snowden was a definite highlight, with volume-sensitive effects triggered by the bass clarinet, and sounds such as a woman laughing and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle integrated in intriguing ways.

I then went to hear Dennis Nygren and John Weigand speak about the teaching of Robert Marcellus.  The discussion was interspersed with fascinating audio samples of Marcellus himself teaching, though they were hard to understand at times and a transcription would have been nice.  During the presentation it was noted that Northwestern plans to make these recordings publicly available on its website in the future -- we'll let you know as soon as they do!

Marcellus Lecture

One of the more interesting parts of the discussion centered on Marcellus' teaching of the "prepared fingers" or "legato fingers" technique.  With audience members contributing information, it was concluded that while Marcellus initially taught that you should straighten the finger and raise it very high before slowly bringing it down (the way Bonade taught it), at some point he decided it was better to keep the finger curved and began to teach it that way.

After enjoying breakfast and coffee at the complementary breakfast bar generously offered by the Embassy Hotel, I (Kellie) headed over to the 10:30am morning recital entitled "Dreaming, Dancing, Delighting."  The program featured works that evoked moods or musical styles that played off of the program's title.  Running a little late due to my leisurely breakfast, I entered the Kimball Recital Hall just in time to hear the third piece on the program, Richard Rodney Bennett's Ballad in Memory of Shirley Horn, and I was glad that I had the chance to hear Steven Becraft perform this sensitive and lyrical composition.

Next up was Elizabeth Gunlogson's performance of Don Freund's unaccompanied piece Daydream in A-flat.  Although I (Kellie) was not particularly fond of the piece, Gunlogson demonstrated excellent control in all of the registers despite the gurgling of water caught in a tone hole. Unfortunately, Gunlogson had an extreme case of excess water due the cold temperature of the hall and had to blow out the water multiple times, almost to the point of severe distraction.  The next two performers, Martin Castillos (recently appointed as the ICA National Chairperson for Uruguay) and Rebecca Rischin both played separate Fantasia pieces by Carlos Estrada and Ramon Carnicer y Batlle, respectfully. 

Rebecca Rischin

Malena McLaren performance of Miguel Yuste's Leyenda, danza y lamento, Op.72, took the mood from the light and capricious nature of the Fantasias to a more dreamy-like state.  McLaren's expressiveness and warm tone brought life and excitement to the piece.
Malena McLaren

Sometimes during public performances, musicians experience technical difficulties out of their control.  During his performance of Michael Finnissy's unaccompanied piece Uzundara, clarinetist Gregory Oakes's music was blown off the stands and fell to the floor.  Oakes was forced to set down his instrument on the piano and quickly gathered the handful of pages scattered across the floor. Once all of the music was put back in order, Oakes picked up right where he left off playing in the music, unfazed by technical mishap.  This contemporary pieces requires ultimate control of pitch, especially in the altissimo register and Oakes did a superb job of playing these passages at the softest dynamics possible.

One of highlights of the morning recital (and of the festival overall) was the performance of two pieces given by the Ironwood Trio with Jana Starling on E-flat, Leslie Moreau on B-flat, and Anne Watson on bass clarinet.  Starting with David Snow's Hasana Tanz, the group felt right at home with the Klezmer elements of the piece right up until the end of the composition where the cutesy ending incited a few giggles from the audience. Not only did this trio get the audience's feet tapping to some of the latin and tropical beats in the second piece by Jorge Montilla, but they also wowed everyone with their ensemble precision.  They definitely looked like they were having fun and the audience felt it too!  With their music selections and their dazzling performance, the Ironwood Trio brings a vitality and freshness often missing from performances of new music.  We look forward to hearing more from them in the future!

Ironwood Trio: Jana Starling, Leslie Moreau, and Anne Watson

The afternoon recital "Low, Lyrical, and Luscious" was a program dedicated solely to the bass clarinet repertoire.  The recital had a nice mixture of contemporary and classical compositions. Steve Hanusofski's performance of Derek Bermel's Sonata Humana was touching, followed by Anthony J. Costa's wonderful performance of AS IF by Patrice Sciortino.

Anthony J. Costa

The recital concluded with the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk (Jeff Anderle and Jonathan Russell) performing Ryan Brown's Knee Gas (On) and Russell's own arrangement of J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565.  Not only did the duo play with impeccable attention to intonation in both pieces, but they also were able to transform their timbre to sound like a real organ during the Bach arrangement. Regularly-scheduled artists at ClarinetFests of years past, these two performers are familiar faces to concert goers and also to Clarinet Cache, where they are featured in our blog post from 2008.  This concert was the second of three great performances that the two men were featured in during the festival.  Immediately after the concert, audience members lined up outside to talk with the duo and purchase T-shirts and CDs.

Sqwonk Bass Clarinet Duo: Jonathan Russell and Jeff Anderle
Sqwonk Bass Clarinet Duo outside Kimball Recital Hall

The afternoon master class was presented by Jessica Phillips Rieske, Acting Principal of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  Here, she listened to four very talented young players giving them advice on finger motion and pressure; articulation changes to facilitate the musical flow of passages; using imagery to help understand the music better; and to add variations to repeated passages to help break up monotony within phrases.  At the beginning of the master class, one audience member brought attention to a slight buzzing sound of someone's metronome going off in the background. Unfortunately, the source of the sound could not be located and we had to disregard and tune out the distracting noise. 

Jessica Phillips Rieske Master Class

The theme of the Friday evening concert was that of various duos accompanied by the Omaha Symphonic Winds.  Unfortunately, the level of playing of the band was not up to par, and many of the featured soloists had a hard time keeping up with the conductor's fluctuating tempi and overall pitch problems.  First on the program was Mendelssohn's Concertpiece No.2 in D minor played by MUC Laura Grantier on clarinet and TSgt J. Blake Arrington on basset horn.  Although Arrington had to contend with a problem with his instrument while on stage, he nonetheless kept playing through the technical glitch and both musicians managed to play their best despite the circumstances.

Next, Robert Spring and bassoonist Albie Micklich performed Damian Montano's Double Concerto. Although the ensemble seemed to fit better within the interplays between the two soloists in the music, the inadequate musicianship of the group downplayed what would have been an otherwise good performance.

Clarinetist SFC Cheryl Ani and her sister MU1 Cindy Wolverton then played Amilcare Ponchielli's Il Convegno: Divertimento.  This well-known piece is a great work highlighting the virtuosity of both clarinetists; however, the audience could sense the unease of the soloists as they tried to interact with the conductor of band. 

Soloists SFC Cheryl Ani and MU1 Cindy Wolverton
The program continued with the Sqwonk Bass Clarinet Duo presenting a world premiere of the wind ensemble arrangement of Sqwonk member Jonathan Russell's Bass Clarinet Double Concerto.  It is a testament to Russell's writing and the assertive playing of the duo that this work was the most successful on the program.  The work showcased the talent of the Omaha Symphonic Winds percussion section and utilized the darker colors of the group to complement the soloists.

Finally, the program ended with SSgt Christopher Grant on E-flat clarinet and GySgt Michelle Urzynicok on clarinet performing Luigi Bassi's Gran Duetto Concertante.  After finishing an excellent performance of such a technically challenging piece, the two soloists exited the stage only to be followed back on stage by all of performers to play an encore.  It was a great sight to see all of the military and professional clarinetists unite for an encore performance of Flight of the Bumblebee, and brought back memories of ClarinetFest 2012 in Los Angeles when Alcides Rodriguez, Stanley Drucker, and others performed a group rendition of the piece.

GySft Michelle Urzynicok and SSgt Christopher Grant
Encore performance by all of the soloists


Anonymous said...

I've taken lessons from Chris Grant; nice guy. But I'd contend that he was the individual playing Bb clarinet, and Michelle Urzynicok played Eb, being the Eb clarinetist of the Marine Band. Just a minor observation.

Lucas Middleton said...

Grateful for ssharing this