Saturday, August 11, 2012

ClarinetFest Day 4

At this point in the festival it becomes harder to wake up early to make it to the first concert of the day.  Taking the morning off from recitals, I (Kellie) went to visit the exhibitions to peruse some of the vendors selling sheet music.   Then we spent some time working on our presentation for Sunday - more info coming about that in the Day 5 recap!

Many clarinetists are familiar with the music of Scott McAllister, so there was a good turnout for the performance of his new seven-movement Epic Concerto, played by three different artists.  The piece began with SSgt Timothy Sutfin performing the first three movements: "Warm-up," "Walking with Benny," and "Prodigy."  The first movement incorporated warm-up materials and patterns from the Klose book; however, the tempos were definitely faster than the typical warm-up speeds!  McAllister was inspired by the Copland and Benny Goodman, and the second movement reflects a slow walk with the great composer and player, evoking the beautiful opening of the Copland Concerto.  The next movement was inspired by past and present prodigies, including the music of Michael Jackson, where Sutfin's clarinet playing emulated the spirit and energy of the late pop star.  

Switching artists, the fourth movement was performed by Peggy Dees Moseley, who was also the commission coordinator of the work.  This movement, "Epic," is the longest movement in the piece and McAllister dedicated it to his mentor Frank Kowalsky and his wife Helen Earl.  

Rounding out the last portion of this 45-minute concerto, Kimberly Cole Luevano played the last three movements: "Schizo Scherzo," "Gone," and "High Flyin' Bird."  With a big bright sound, Luevano jumped right into "Schizo Scherzo," one of the more effective movements of the piece.  This movement was dedicated to the memory of Robert Marcellus, one of the three teachers and pedagogues to whom the festival paid tribute this year.  Similar to Berio's Mahler "remix" in the third movement of his Sinfonia, McAllister made a rousing scherzo out of a mashup of the third movement of Brahms' Sonata in F Minor together with several of the most famous orchestral excerpts for clarinet (Daphnis, Mendelssohn, Gershwin, etc.).  

The penultimate movement "Gone" centers on McAllister's emotional response to the loss of his playing career after a car accident. The long, static sotto voce tones placed under the sound of the piano must have been difficult to pull off, especially after such an energetic movement, but Luevano's stamina and control allowed her to reflect the composer's process of healing after such a life-changing event.   The final movement called "High Flyin' Bird" was inspired by a song by Richie Havens and it energetically closed the entire composition.  After all three clarinetist returned to the stage for another round of applause, McAllister joined the trio of performers in acknowledgment of superbly performance of his epic piece.

Kimberly Cole Luevano, Peggy Dees Moseley, SSgt Timothy Sutfin, and Scott McAllister
Those familiar with McAllister's music will find in the Epic Concerto elements familiar from his other works: floating upper clarion notes, extreme altissimo, angular leaps, glissando, rips up and down the instrument, and syncopated rhythms.  What sets Epic Concerto apart is that it is such an intensely personal tour of McAllister's own life as a clarinetist, making this work above all the others a "clarinetist's" clarinet piece.  Its "epic" nature and technical demands make it difficult to program on a recital, but each movement is self-contained enough to stand on its own if taken out of context.

I (Rachel) came in late to the I.C.A. Competition Winner's Recital on Saturday afternoon but managed to hear most of Paul Cantrell's beautiful work The Broken Mirror of Memory, for bass clarinet and piano.  The committed performance by Pat O'Keefe should inspire others to check out this winning piece from the Composition Competition.  

I had a special interest in the next piece, the winning work from the Joint Wind Quintet Project, as I performed in the first two premieres of the piece with the Madera Wind Quintet at the conferences of the International Horn Society and International Double Reed Society.  Lansing McLoskey was awarded the commission from the group, and composed Hardwood with inspiration from hardwood trees, leaves and branches he came across in the woods of New Hampshire.  With my extensive knowledge of the score, I can safely state that clarinetist Tod Kerstetter and the Konza Wind Quintet did a fine job of navigating the difficult rhythmic terrain and infusing the piece with lots of musicality.

The evening concert on Saturday was much more polished than Friday's concert of duos with wind ensemble, but it was still a bit underwhelming.  Greg Smith's performance of the Première Rhapsodie by Debussy was refined and light on its feet, but his delicate tone was completely overpowered by the orchestra at times.  We started wondering if the clarinetists were in a dead spot onstage when Jessica Phillips Rieske had similar problems being heard in the Mozart Concerto.  She made some interesting choices about octave transpositions from the basset clarinet original, but the performance overall seemed a bit "safe" -- perhaps owing to the fact that the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra conductor didn't seem to be paying much attention to his soloists.  

Eddy Vanoosthuyse gave a rousing performance of McAllister's X with a powerful sound compared to the other two performers, perhaps owing in part to standing at a different angle onstage.  Capturing the spirit of the piece, the orchestra was alternately brooding and explosive.  With the exception of a little bit of reed trouble, Vanoosthuyse's performance was effective and engaging.

Scott McAllister and Eddy Vanoosthuyse

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