Saturday, April 12, 2014

Britten Movements for a Clarinet Concerto

Last year, I won the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Crain-Maling Foundation Youth Concerto Competition, granting me the opportunity to perform with the CSO this year.  I played the Mozart clarinet concerto at the competition and I thought that I would probably be playing the Mozart with the CSO, but a few months ago they emailed me to tell me that they wanted me to play Movements for a Clarinet Concerto by Benjamin Britten.  I had know idea that Britten wrote a clarinet concerto!

I did some research on the piece, and it turns out that Britten didn't ever complete it.  It was originally  commissioned  by Benny Goodman in 1943, and Britten enthusiastically agreed to write it.  He finished a good amount of the first movement before returning to England in the same year.

During his journey back home, his manuscript was seized by U.S. customs because they thought that it could be some sort of code holding military secrets.  Unfortunately, even though Britten quickly retrieved his music, Goodman informed him that he should put the project on hold because Goodman was about to go on a tour with his band and would not be able to prepare the music for a while.  Britten returned to England and sadly never finished the piece.

The Movements for a Clarinet Concerto was finished by recently by Collin Matthews and was first performed in 2008 by Michael Collins.  Collins is a wonderful British clarinet soloist and conductor.  You can find a copy of his performance on the 2009 album Unknown Britten.  Matthews does a wonderful job playing the concerto with the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Thomas Zehetmair.

I am really excited to be playing this piece.  I have listened to the recording of Michael Collins playing it many times.  This is the only recording I have been able to find.  My favorite movement is the second because of the gorgeous duet between the solo clarinet and the bass clarinet.  Unfortunately, I was only asked to perform the final movement of the piece.  I really love this piece and wish that I could perform the whole composition.

Perhaps this is best, because the Britten is a difficult concerto!  I am having trouble just learning the last movement, let alone the whole piece.  The hardest parts about the last movement are probably playing the high notes (this piece uses the highest practical notes on the clarinet).  It is not easy to hit these notes and keep the style of the piece cute and exciting.  It is easy to lose the musical line when you are trying to control those high notes.

Still, I shouldn't complain, because it is an incredible honor getting to perform such an amazing piece of music with a world class orchestra.

Monday, February 10, 2014

National Youth Orchestra of the USA

On Friday I found out that I have been honored with a spot in the clarinet section of the 2014 National Youth Orchestra of the USA.  I think I've only been this excited twice in my life.  The other was last year when I won the CSO competition.

The National Youth Orchestra is a recent phenomenom.  Last year, Carnegie Hall's Artistic Director, Clive Gillinson, founded the NYO, which debuted at Carnegie Hall and toured London, Moscow and St. Petersburg.  They played Shostakovich 10 and the Tchaikovsky violin concerto with Joshua Bell, as well as a modern piece composed for the orchestra called Magiya by Sean Shepherd.  The orchestra played under the baton of Maestro Valery Gergiev, and they were pretty amazing.

I have found that I really connect with the people I play with in my youth orchestras, Midwest Young Artists and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.  The same applied when I went to Interlochen when I was in middle school.  With my orchestra friends, I can be really open about my passions and beliefs and ideals, about who I really am, and I can count on their understanding and acceptance.

So I am really excited to have this amazing opportunity to play with some of the best young musicians in the country.  We will be playing under the direction of David Robertson of the Saint Louis and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, and we have the privilege of accompanying world class violinist Gil Shaham in the Britten Violin Concerto.  This year's program will consist of the following repertoire:

Samuel Carl Adams - New Work
Bernstein - Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Britten - Violin Concerto, op. 15
Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition (Ravel's orchestration)

And we will be performing in the following venues:

New York, NY - Carnegie Hall in New York City (July 22)
Lenox, MA - Ozawa Hall in the Tanglewood Music Festival (July 24)
Boone, NC - Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts in the Appalachian Summer Festival (July 26)
Chicago, IL - Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Grant Park Music Festival (July 28)
Teton Village, WY - Festival Hall in the Grand Teton Music Festival (July 30)
Rohnert Park, CA - Weill Hall at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center (August 2)
Los Angeles, CA - Walt Disney Hall (August 4).

I can hardly wait!

Here is a link to the BBC Proms Performance from last year.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra

Last week I had the opportunity to perform the first movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra!  It was a really great experience, especially considering I have never performed the Mozart concerto with an orchestra before.  Philip MacKenzie, the executive director of the orchestra, organized the performance and invited me to join them for their Family Fun Concert on October 26, 2013.  Everyone in the orchestra was so nice and welcoming.

Beverly Everett was conducting the concert.  She is an active conductor, composer and performer as well as the Music Director of the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra.  She was a smooth conductor and easy to follow, and it was a lot of fun to play under her.

The Bott family, a local family involved with the orchestra, hosted us.  They were very kind and accommodating, and they had a very nice home.  They even went so far as to play legos with my five year old brother, Morgan, who drove to North Dakota with us.  The orchestra, as well as being so kind as to ask me to play the Mozart with them, also asked me to play the clarinet part in Peter and the Wolf, which was really cool!  The clarinet plays the cat in Peter in the Wolf, and it is an enjoyable piece to perform.  Terry Dullum, a journalist with WDAZ News, narrated Peter and the Wolf and did a wonderful job.

To add to all their generosity, Beverly Everett, the guest conductor, invited me back to North Dakota in March to play the whole Mozart clarinet concerto with the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra, which she conducts!  I am really excited to play an entire concerto for the first time with an orchestra.

The whole experience was both fun and instructive.  I learned a lot, and I'm really glad and grateful to all the people who spent the time and effort to organize this wonderful weekend.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Clark Brody Memorial

A couple weeks ago, I went to a service in honor of the life of Clark Brody, former principal clarinet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Clark Brody was born on June 9th, 1913 in Lansing, Michigan.  He studied clarinet first at Michigan State University, and then at the Eastman school of music.  Before he played with the CSO, he was in the Air Force Band and concert orchestra during World War II, and he also played with the CBS Symphony Orchestra from 1941-1950.   He was principal clarinet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1951-1978 and played under the baton of  Rafael Kubelik, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, and Sir George Solti.  He also was a clarinet professor at Northwestern University from 1972-1995.  He died at the age of 98 in 2012.

I take piano lessons from Mr. Brody's niece Barbara Rubenstein, so I have had the opportunity to hear a lot of stories about Clark Brody.  It is very interesting to learn about both the personal and professional sides of an individual.  I attended the memorial with Barbara and sat next to her during the service.

The service was a very elegant celebration of Mr. Brody's career.  Many people spoke about Mr. Brody and the impact he had upon them.  I especially enjoyed his son, Robert Brody's, very graceful words about his father.  The younger Mr. Brody described an incident in their life when they were travelling.  They were walking through a park where there were many lepers who were obviously suffering.  One of the sick men had fallen off a bench, and many people were walking past him ignoring him, even though it was obvious that the man was trying to get back onto the bench.  Mr. Brody picked up the man, and put him on the bench, made sure he was okay and wished him a good day, as if it were the most natural and expected thing to do.  John Bruce Yeh also spoke about Mr. Brody and how he was very supportive of the 19 year old John Yeh when he first took up a position with the orchestra.  Mr. Yeh talked about how Clark Brody showed him how to play in an orchestra and guided him through his first few years.

Several people performed at the service.  There was a clarinet ensemble made up of former colleagues, friends and students of Clark Brody, and Charlene Zimmerman performed the 2nd movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with Toni-Marie Montgomery accompanying.  Charlene Zimmerman is the principal clarinet of the Chicago Lyric Opera.  I have never had the privilege of hearing her play before, and I found her quite wonderful.  She played with a sweet, singing line, and it was one of my favorite interpretations of the 2nd movement.  I think I may have to start saving my money for Lyric tickets...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Walter Grabner's Awesome Mouthpieces

I've been playing on Walter Grabner's amazing mouthpieces for a couple of years now.  They have a really great sound, and I recommend them highly.

Also, Mr. Grabner is a really great guy.  Last spring, I played at the Skokie Valley Concerto Competition.  I was playing on one of his older mouthpieces.  I didn't advance to the finals, but Mr. Grabner heard my performance, and he talked to me after the competition.  He said I had done a great job, but he thought I should try out one of his newer mouthpieces that he had just developed.
The first thing I noticed about them was that they have a realy beautiful, serious tone.  They have a very smooth and resonant sound.

I said sure, I'd love to try a new mouthpiece, because I had the finals of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Youth Auditions coming up in a week, and people often describe my tone as too bright.  So I went to his studio a few days later and tried out some of his new mouthpieces.  They were fantastic!  They had a dark, mellow tone, and I really liked the difference.  I picked the one I sounded best on, and when I asked Mr. Grabner how much it cost, he said that I could have it.

Well, a week later at the CSO Youth Audition finals, I won first prize.  I'm sure that Mr. Grabner's new mouthpiece helped me get there.  It is a seriously fine mouthpiece produced by a seriously fine man, and I recommend it to everyone.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Burt Hara Plays Mozart and Bruckner is Introduced to Two Kids from Chicago

Last month, I went to Minnesota to see Burt Hara play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Minnesota
Photo by Nate Ryan LLC
Orchestra in a lock-out concert put on by the musicians themselves, since the board of the Minnesota Orchestra refuse to pay for any concerts this year.  This concert was unlike any concert I've attended before.

I'm from Chicago.  Our Chicago Symphony Orchestra has an enthusiastic audience.  We regularly give our orchestra multiple standing ovations.  We applaud for the principals.  We applaud for each section.  We cheer, some of the older people say "Bravo," and we share a communal excitement for the music and the musicians that we love.

I'm used to standing ovations at classical music concerts.  But the audience's response to the concert on April 25 was beyond anything I've ever seen.  There were so many standing ovations that I couldn't count them.  The scope of the emotion of the audience was tremendous, and it was amazing to be a part of all that. I cried.  I couldn't help it.  The music was beautiful, but the community was inspiring and heart-rending, especially considering that the Board of the Minnesota Orchestra is trying so hard to destroy the music, the musicians, and the community of the fans who love their orchestra.  This even showed me first hand what a musical community is.

Now for the music.  Mr. Hara's interpretation of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto was amazing.  I have waited too long to review this concert to be as specific as I should about his performance.  It was hard to write anything, because my emotions were too present, too strong, and my words couldn't possibly do my feelings justice.  Mr. Hara's Mozart was sweet, technically perfect, and musically evocative.  He told a beautiful story that is as strong today as it was 222 years ago when Stadler shared Mozart's genius with his audience.  Mr. Hara deserves his reputation as one of the best clarinets in the world.  He is really something special.

Onto the Bruckner.  I was not familiar with Bruckner.  I'd never heard a single one of his compositions live or on recording.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was impressed.  Often with a complicated symphony, you need to hear it a few times to sort out what is happening in the music and to truly appreciate it.  The Minnesota Orchestra's presentation was the best introduction to Bruckner anyone could have.  The music made sense to me and touched me from the first notes.  The clarinet and horn solos wove through the entire symphony tying themes and ideas together with a beautiful sense of one uniting idea.  I loved it.

I want to see more Minnesota Orchestra concerts, but I fear that the Board is destroying this institution forever, and denying everyone the ability to hear this amazing music.  After a year of being locked out, the musicians are being forced to take jobs elsewhere to support their families.  The orchestra is dwindling and will never be the same.  And that makes me terribly sad.