Sunday, November 18, 2012

Private Lesson with Burt Hara

Burt Hara, and me, and Mr. Hara's Dog
Last week, I was in Minnesota with my brother Ari who was visiting Carleton College, because that's where he wants to go next year.  While I was there, I had the opportunity to have a lesson with Burt Hara, principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.  It was the lesson of my life!

He was very energetic and enthusiastic, in spite of the fact that he with the rest of the Minnesota Orchestra is locked out.  This is very sad, because the Minnesota Orchestra is a really great orchestra.  I was disappointed that I couldn't see them play while I was in Minnesota.  I think the administration of the Minnesota Orchestra should resign, because they aren't doing the one important job that they are supposed to do, which is to provide the musicians with the opportunity to share their beautiful music with the people of Minnesota, the Midwest, and the world.  For more about this depressing situation, you can check out the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra website.

Back to the lesson.  Mr. Hara didn't work on technique of any kind.  Instead we worked on the style of the piece and how to tell a story with my music.  I started the lesson by playing the second movement of Finzi's Five Bagatelles.  After I finished, Mr. Hara asked me what I was thinking while I played. I didn't know exactly.  His response was amazing.  He said that he thought I was thinking like this:  "My tone is amazing!  I am playing beautiful dynamics.  Oh look!  A crescendo, I will increase the level of my sound by this many decibels." Mr. Hara said I was thinking things like "Isn't my playing just wonderful.  Listen to my beautiful clarinet playing!"

This made me laugh.  But he was very serious, and he was right!

Mr. Hara said, "What you need is a good director of your movie."  Then he asked me what story I wanted to tell when I played the Finzi Romanze movement.  The only answer I could give him is that the movement seemed sad.  Mr. Hara said that when he listened to this piece or when he plays it, he sees an old man.  This old man is on the brink of death and wistfully remembering the life that he has lived.  Mr. Hara then proceeded to start acting like an old man as he sat in the chair next to me.  He put his head in his hands and wept dramatically, and he acted out his role as I played the piece.  His dramatic enactment of the story helped me imagine the story as I played.

We worked through almost every measure in the piece, trying to get that feeling of reminiscence.  After we worked on the piece, my playing became twice as good on the Finzi as it had been.  Suddenly, I knew where I wanted each phrase to go, and I had an idea of what I wanted to express when I played it.

I loved Mr. Hara's teaching and was excited when he asked to hear another piece.  So I played Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations.  Again, we didn't work on technique of any kind.  Instead, we talked about the music.  First he had me play through the introduction, theme, and first variation.  Then we went back to the beginning and he asked me what story I was trying to tell.  The only answer I could give was that the piece was happy.  Mr Hara said that I should know before I begin what kind of story I am trying to tell.  I should have a character in mind, and everyone should know from the first note of the piece who I am.  Mr. Hara said that he thought this piece was about a young girl who is extremely cute, innocent, not very smart, and quite a bit flirtatious.  He told me to start playing, and while I was playing, he started flitting around the room, acting like a young girl, flipping his hair and twittering about.

Mr. Hara's acting really helped me get the feel of the piece, and we worked though the entire introduction, trying to tell the story of this young flirtatious girl.  Every part of my playing was better when I focused on trying to tell a story.  My technique even improved!  My high notes sounded less squeaky, my articulation better matched the piece, and the phrasing had a reason behind it.  During the only hour and a half I spent learning from Mr. Hara, my playing really took off.  I took home many new ideas about the pieces that I played.  And best of all, practicing like this is so much fun!  The lesson with Burt Hara was probably the best lesson I have ever had on clarinet  And that is saying a lot, because I have had the chance to work with some pretty amazing teachers!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Performance Last Spring at the Chicago Cultural Center

Music is extremely important to me, because with music I can express my thoughts and emotions in a way that everyone will understand, regardless of language or culture.  Music is a language that everyone speaks.  I love playing the clarinet, because it just makes me feel happy to do so.  It is as if I am transported to another world where I don’t have to worry about anything, and I can just enjoy the wonder of living.  Without music, my life would be a wasteland.  Music is the most important thing in the world to me, because it makes me feel what nothing else can make me feel, and it allows me to tell the world what I think in a very personal way.

Making music with others is an amazing way to learn about people.  In a chamber ensemble, for example, it is enjoyable to see how different people interpret the music in an intimate setting.  Everyone has different ideas about the music and different ways of carrying their ideas out.  It is really interesting to listen to the outcome of a chamber piece, when each voice sounds together in performance.  Playing with an orchestra is a similar, but grander experience.   When I am playing in an orchestra, the sounds of the orchestra pours into me and give me incredibly real thoughts of anger, bliss, depression, depending upon the composer and work of music.  I love playing music with other people.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Anthony McGill and Pacifica String Quartet

Saturday night, I got to see Anthony McGill perform with the Pacifica String Quartet.  Anthony McGill is the principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and he performed "Air and Simple Gifts" by John Williams with Yoyo Ma and Itzak Perlman in Obama's 2008 Inauguration.  The Pacifica String Quartet is one of the finest string quartets peforming today.  They were performing in the Music in the Loft Series.  It was a outstanding peformance!

The concert was at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.  The performance took place in an extremely intimate setting.  I think it was a luthier, because there cellos of various sizes lined up on a rack on the wall.  The seats were packed extremely close together, and the room packed with people.  It was chamber music in a real chamber!

During the first half of the concert, the Pacifica Quartet played without Anthony McGill.  They performed the Beethoven String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130.  They were phenomenal.  I have never heard a chamber group play so completely together.  It was like they were one instrument, one person.  Simin Ganatra led the group with perfect confidence, and the men followed her perfectly, while 2nd violinist Sibbi Bernardsson, cellist Brandon Vamos, and violist Masumi Per Rostad followed her lead flawlessly.  The performance was smooth, confident and exquisite.  I loved it!

The second half of the concert was the Mozart Clarinet Quintet.  Anthony McGill was awesome!  I really loved the way he communicated with Pacifica.  The members of Pacifica have a clear and obvious connection with each other, which really comes through in their playing.  McGill slipped right into this relationship with an easy confidence.

The clarinet has a very different color than the string quartet and it is easy to stick out and overpower them, making the piece more like a clarinet concerto than a chamber piece.  But Anthony McGill achieved a perfect balance with Pacifica. His tone was dark, inviting and yet at the same time playful, very distinctly Mozart.  It was wonderful!  I loved every minute.

After the concert there was a reception.  I wanted to talk to Anthony, and tell him what a wonderful job he did.  He was talking to his parents, and I didn't want to disturb him, but he saw me and called me over and introduced me to his parents.  When his Dad, Demarre McGill, Sr. met me, he said, "You look familiar.  Are you the blogger?"  Mr. McGill, Sr. was very warm and enthusiastic.  It is easy to see why Anthony McGill is such a great guy when you meet his parents.  I talked a little with Anthony and his parents, and they were all so nice!  Plus, it is really cool that Anthony McGill's dad follows my blog!

Amazing Chicago native Chicago Clarinetist and great guy, Anthony McGill!
All in all, it was a wonderful evening, and I am so happy that I had the chance to see and hear such wonderful musicians.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Julian Bliss in Chicago!

Yesterday, I saw Julian Bliss perform live for the first time!  He was appearing at the International Beethoven ProjectJulian Bliss is a 23 year old clarinet prodigy from the United Kingdom.  He began playing the clarinet at age 4, and since then he has built an amazing career.  He is a world class soloist, and he has collaborated with some of the greatest musicians in the world in chamber music projects.  He is also famous for designing a clarinet for LeBlanc which has become quite popular.
Julian Bliss (and me).  Great clarinetist, really cool guy.

It was a wonderful concert!  Bliss played the Mihaud Sonata, Penderecki's Three Miniatures, and the Brahms Sonata (#1) in the first half.  After Intermission, he played Piazolla's Oblivion, Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie and the Prokofiev flute sonata which he had arranged for clarinet.  Throughout the concert Mr. Bliss joked and commented about the music he was playing.  He had a really warm stage presence and a lot of confidence.  At one point, he said that he had worked on a piece with a composer a long long time ago.  This made me laugh, because at 23, it can't have been that long ago.  Maybe long long ago doesn't mean what Mr. Bliss thinks it means!

I was really surprised at the beginning of the concert.  Mr. Bliss came out, and he played the Milhaud and the Penderecki quite well technically and musically, but he didn't grab me the way that I expected him to.  Then he played the Brahms, and something about it wasn't quite right.  He was kind of careless with the Brahms Sonata and he didn't play with the emotional depth that the Brahms demands.  I didn't dislike his playing, of course, he was very proficient, but I didn't hear the virtuoso sound that I have come to expect from a performer as renowned as Julian Bliss.  I thought to myself, why do people find Julian Bliss so amazing?

A cool mobile at the National Pastime Theater.
After the intermission, my question was answered with an exclamation point.  Bliss came back on stage and played Oblivion by Piazolla.  His performance was hauntingly beautiful, and I loved his tone and his expression throughout the performance.  He commanded the rapt attention of every person in the room at that moment.  He connected with the music and he connected with the audience perfectly.  I think the best part of his playing the Piazolla was his vibrato.  Vibrato on the clarinet is a tricky prospect.  Bliss used it sparingly, but when he used it it was flawless, and made his sound take flight.  Mozart is famous for comparing the clarinet to the human voice.  Bliss showed us just what Mozart must have been talking about.  His vibrato was smooth and silky, and put in the mind the picture of a cat purring lazily on a warm summer's day.

Then, he played the Debussy Premiere Rhapsodie.  Before this night, I had come to the conclusion that this was not the greatest piece of clarinet literature, and I kind of dreaded when I would have to learn it -- which will be soon.  This is a song I have heard played many times by many people, famous and not so famous, and, while I have like many of them,  none of the performances have truly impressed me.  Bliss's performance completely blew me away!  I loved everything he did.  He brought the music to life.  His tone was clean and clear.  His phrasing was phenomenal.  His articulations were different than anyone I've ever heard before him, and I found his performance stronger and more vibrant than any I've heard.   I thought to myself as I listened, "THIS is why Julian Bliss is a world class performer!  I get it."  After he finished, I was sad that the music had stopped, as I wanted it to go on and on for hours.

The theater space at the National Pastime Theater in Chicago
Then, he began to play the final piece of his program.  The closing number was the Prokofiev Flute Sonata, Opus 94.  Julian Bliss had arranged it himself for clarinet.  It was a very interesting piece!  It didn't have the dissonance that I have come to expect from Prokofiev, and yet the feel was very distinctly Prokofiev.  I loved the way it sounded on clarinet.  This should never have been a flute or a violin sonata.  I think Prokofiev made a mistake by scoring it for the wrong instrument.  A mistake that Mr. Bliss fixed in one beautiful performance.  His interpretation and playing was simply fantastic!

After the concert, I hung around to see if I could meet Julian Bliss.  He was very willing to hang around and chat with anyone who came up to him after the concert, and he greeted everyone like they were old friends.  What a great guy!  He even let my mom take a picture of the two of us.  You know, Julian Bliss is quite short!  It seems that many famous clarinetists tend to be on the small side:  Wenzel Fuchs, Anthony McGill and now Julian Bliss are all around my height.  And I'm only 5'5" (and probably almost done growing).  I have a theory:  maybe playing the clarinet stunts your growth.

In any case, the concert was a GREAT experience, and I was very happy to have finally heard an interpretation of the Premiere Rhapsodie that was truly amazing.  I hope that I will get to hear Mr. Bliss again.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Master Class with Jessica Phillips Rieske

A few hours after the ICA High School Solo Competition, I was scheduled to play for a masterclass with Jessica Phillips Rieske, Acting Principal Clarinet at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  She is also on the faculties at Rutgers and Columbia Universities, and she teaches E-Flat clarinet at The Juilliard School.

Ms. Phillips Rieske with the clarinets from the masterclass.
I was pretty wiped out emotionally after the competition earlier that morning.  It didn't help that one of the teachers of one of the others students in the competition, a student who, like me, also did not place, came to me afterwards to tell me exactly what I had done wrong.  He kept harping on my Legere Reeds and telling me that I played poorly.  His comments did not agree with the judges comments, and I didn't know him, so it was very odd that he would come to me at that moment with such strong statements.  At that point I was trying to shake hands with the winners and congratulate them on their performances and to get my own comments from the judges.

In any case, I went to the dealer's room to try out the new Buffet Divine clarinet and I got some lunch, and then I took a deep breth and went to the masterclass.  I was playing the exposition of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in front of a room full of clarinet professionals, enthusiasts, and students.  It's funny.  I wasn't nervous.  I figured, I would do my best and not worry too much about it.  Unlike the competition, this time, I didn't have much to lose.  Also, I don't think I had enough energy left after the competition to get too worked up about anything.

I think I played quite well considering everything -- although since I have been working on the Mozart since then, I could play better today, but that doesn't really matter.  The important thing was that Ms. Phillips Rieske was a FANTASTIC teacher.  Like Mr. Manassee, she focused first on what she liked about my playing, which is something I think all teachers should do.  It makes it much easier to hear the criticisms, especially in a room full of people you don't know.  I'm not going to go into specifics about her comments this time, like I usually do, but suffice it to say that the master class was a great experience.  I hope that I have the privilege to meet Ms. Phillips Rieske again as a teacher or as the amazing performer that she is.

Clarinetfest 2012 - High School Solo Competition

With Diane Barger, Artistic Director of Clarinetfest 2012

At the beginning of August, I played in the International Clarinet Association (ICA) High School Solo Competition.  We were to play the Martinu Clarinet Sonata and Kovac's Homage a Debussy.  It was a great experience!  Although I didn't place or perhaps because I didn't place, I learned a lot from the competition.  I was very nervous during the compeition, because the other players were really great players.  The judges sat less than 10 feet from me, which really kind of terrified me.  This anxiety caused me to make mistakes, that I don't think I would have made otherwise.

The other clarinets in the competition were quite good, but I feel that I would have done better if I had played at the level that I wanted to.  Still, it was a good experience for several reasons.  First, it taught me that playing without music can cause me to make more mistakes.  When there is nothing between me and the audience, the experience is more intense.  Playing without the music was not required, but I chose to anyway, because it seemed like the right thing to do.  It does make it a little harder though to have to stare at the judges and watch every move of their pen as they write their criticisms.

Still, I think playing from memory should be done as much as possible.  I think this, because it allows you to detach yourself from the notes and concentrate of the musicality of the piece of music you are interpreting.  Also, without a music stand, you can communicate more with the audience and with your pianist as you perform.

The second thing I learned from the competition is what I do when I feel I am not quite prepared and I get very nervous.  I tend to shake, and I hold notes longer or shorter than their printed value.  My tone and rhythm suffer from these things a lot.  That is a problem.  I really could have used an extra month on these pieces to prepare them properly.

The 2012 ICA High School Soloist Competition Finalists.
The last thing I learned, and the most important thing is that I still have a long way to go in clarinet playing.  Some of the players whom I heard at the competition were amazing.  But I think they play at levels I can reach if I keep a rigorous and effective practice schedule.  I loved playing at the ICA High School Competition, and I hope I can go and try again next year in Italy.  I think I have a shot at winning if I work really hard in between now and then.

I should add that it was an honor and a privilege to be in a competition with such talented young clarinetists.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Clarinetfest 2012: Day 4

Saturday night at Clarinetfest 2012, I saw a truly wonderful concert.  This concert featured clarinets soloing with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra.  There were three performers, Gregory Smith of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jessica Phillips Rieske of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Belgian/Flemish clarinetist Eddy Vanoosthuyse.  They played the "Premiere Rhapsodie" by Debussy, the Mozart clarinet concerto and the X Concerto By Scott McAllister.

Mr. Smith played the Debussy very well.  It was the first really professional live performance of this piece that I have had the privilege to hear.  His playing really captured the impressionistic style of Debussy.  Mr. Smith's tone was great, and his phrasing was phenomenally crafted throughout the piece.  His technique was flawlessly sound, and I really enjoyed the way he articulated.  The only thing I disliked about his playing was the way he communicated the piece to the audience.  I think, perhaps, because he wasn't playing from memory, some of the notes got lost, or maybe they were reflected by the music stand away from the audience onto the stage.  The way the stand was positioned hid his face from some parts of the audience and limited his ability to communicate with the audience members who were unfortunate enough to have their view obstructed by the stand.  These are minor complaints, however, and probably oversights by the tech crew who had set up the stage.  Mr. Smith played the piece beautifully.

Next, Jessica Phillips Rieske played the Mozart.  I LOVED her Mozart!!  It was beautifully phrased, and her tone was strong and clear and sweet throughout the entire work.  I especially loved the way she performed the second movement.  She really captured the classical elegance of Mozart in that second movement better than I have heard anyone do it.  There were a few spots where the horns were audibly out of tune, but that's how it is with horn sections at times.  All in all it was a solid performance by the Lincoln Symphony and a fantastic exhibition by Ms. Phillips Rieske.

The last piece was quite interesting.  It was the X Concerto by Scott McAllister, played by Belgian clarinetist Eddy Vanoothuyse.  I loved Mr. Vanoothuyse's playing all the way through the piece.  There were also a lot of cool things about this composition.  The composer, Scott McAllister, was at the concert, and he talked about the piece before it was performed.  He said that when he composed it, he was afraid his fellow composers would disapprove that he put a melody in the second movement.  Modern pieces never have melodies!  He also said that he put a little bit of the Mozart clarinet concerto in the third movement, because he wanted the piece to someday win concerto competitions 15 years ago when he composed it, and it has since then.  Funny!

I didn't love the first movement; it was mostly quiet trilling form the clarinet, an impressive feat, but an odd way to start a composition.  The second movement, however, contained a gorgeous melody, which at one point in the piece is taken up and played in the altissimo register, creating a moment of exciting suspense.  The last movement is fun, and the pieces of the Mozart clarinet concert stuck in the middle created a really funny effect.  This is a great piece and Eddy Vanoosthuyse gave a wonderful performance of it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Clarinetfest 2012: Introducing the Buffet Divine!

My first look at the Buffet Divine was at the Buffet booth at the 2012 ICA Clarinetfest.  It was displayed under glass, like it was the Hope Diamond at the National Museum.  Buffet is one of the most respected clarinet manufacturers in the world, and their release of a new clarinet is a really big deal.

The Divine was not available to try out until the next day, not until Marc Nuccio, the Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, showcased it in a small concert at the Buffet reception later that evening.  I couldn't wait to try one out the next day.

Thursday evening we attended the Buffet reception to hear the new clarinet.  Marc Nuccio arrived and it was soon going to be time to hear the new clarinet.  He was dressed in a sleek black italian suit, with a black nike turtleneck, looking every bit the elegant New York musician, and resembling the sleek black lines of the new clarinet he was going to play for us.

He stepped up to the music stand, nodded to the pianist, and launched into a beautiful performance of Chausson's Andante and Allegro.  It sounded wonderful, sleek, smooth, and beautiful, and Mr. Nuccio's performance was sublime.  The thing is, I think that Marc Nuccio playing a hollowed out carrot with a clarinet mouthpiece would sound incredible.  The real test would be to hear how regular people sounded on it, to hear how I would sound playing it.

On Friday, the time had come for me to try out the new Buffet.  It was really exciting to have the opportunity to try a new Buffet that was just introduced.  I tried it.  I cannot give a quite accurate report on the instrument, because I wasn't used to the extra left hand pinkie key -- just like the one on the Tosca, but here are my initial thoughts.  It has a smooth tone, which I noticed while playing scale passages.  The Divine makes all of the notes connect better while also making it easier for the notes not to get muddled.  The sound was very clear and focused.  The instrument was well tuned across all three registers.  Another bonus is that the instrument is significantly lighter in weight than the Tosca, which will be very helpful to those who don't use neck straps.

The last think that struck me was the tone.  The focused sound was beautiful and didn't spread even when I played higher and louder.  It's a great instrument.  I just wish I could afford one!

Clarinetfest 2012: Day Two

Trying out the new Walter Grabner Mouthpiece.  They're fantastic.  I bought one!
On Thursday, the exhibition hall opened up for the first time.  There were clarinets everywhere!  They had every major brand of clarinet that is played in the United States.  There were rows upon rows of Backun barrels and bells, tons of sheet music, Rossi clarinets, Italian clarinets, Backun clarinets, Selmer clarinets, and every Buffet clarinet that is currently being made, mouthpieces, everything!  I was really excited to come back and try the clarinets when I had time, but I had to get to my rehearsal with Dr. Fountain, the pianist who was playing with the high school soloist competitors.

Walter Grabner mouthpieces
Dr. Fountain was really good.  All of his rhythms were perfectly correct (which are very hard in the Martinu) and his tempos were just right.  He was a skinny, red-headed pianist who always has a smile on his face, and he was really good at putting everyone at ease with his friendly manner.  He was a pleasure to work with.

Trying out Rossi clarinets.
However, I ran into a huge problem that morning.  I had brought only one good reed with me to Lincoln!  Don't do that, by the way.  It's a really bad idea.  I had brought other reeds, but none of them would respond for me, and the one I had brought to play had somehow gotten racked.  It SERIOUSLY affected my tone,s moothness and articulation in really very bad ways.  I was now dreading playing for the competition on a cracked reed, and I was almost in a panic!  My mom and I had looked earlier at the clarinet exhibition, but we found no Legere booth there.  They had Rico and VanDoren booths, but no Legere exhibition.  I always use Legere reeds, and now was not the time to make a change.  My mom and I were both surprised at the absence of a Legere booth.  The Legere reeds are gaining in popularity, and I would think that more people would be selling them and that there would be a Legere booth at the ICA clarinet exhibition.

My mom tried calling the Legere dealership in Canada to see where in Nebraska we might be able to get more reeds.  He was incredibly nice and offered to send me as many reeds as I might need overnight.  The problem was, the competition was at 9am the next day, so even Fedex wouldn't be able to get them to us in time.

Trying out Backun barrels.
Luckily, while I was rehearsing with Dr. Fountain, my mom found a booth at the exhibition that did sell Legere reeds.  They must not have been out when we walked through the first time, or more likely, we overlooked them.  So thank you to, Wiener Music for saving me.

Backun barrels -- so pretty!

International Clarinet Association Clarinet Fest 2012: Day One

My mom and I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska Wednesday evening for Clarinetfest 2012.  By the time we got checked in, registration had closed five minutes early, so we couldn't pick up our registration materials and schedule.  Lincoln is such a tiny city!  It seems more like a suburb than a city.  Wednesday night, we watched a bass clarinet performance by Michael Lowenstern.  It was very interesting.  He used a looper and other fancy tech equipment in his performance.  The most striking thing he used during the performance was a instrument called an EWI.  It is a really crazy electric woodwind instrument.  It is straight like a soprano sax and played in front of the body where it is held on a neck strap.  It makes a really odd electronic sound. I didn't love it, but Mr. Lowenstern played it well.  I found his bass clarinet playing to be a little more to my liking, but he was able to achieve a sound that is very similar to the sound most people would expect from a saxophone.  I think it is exactly what contemporary bass clarinet performance probably should sound like, and he was very good, but I kind of love the more traditional music.  This wasn't my kind of music, but Mr. Lowenstern was very good at it and he had a really nice stage presence.  He was quite funny and enjoyable to watch.  I did like a composition he premiered called "10 Children's Pieces.  I thought the Lullaby movement quite beautiful.

Monday, July 23, 2012

IWWF 2012

Me and Wenzel Fuchs!
Last week, I attended the International Woodwind Festival 2012 - IWWF Jonathan Cohler was the Artistic and General Director and Cynthia Doggett was the Festival's Coordinator.  This festival was one of the best weeks of my life.  I met so many amazing clarinetists from Austria, China, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, Canada and all over the United States.

The festival included masterclasses, private lessons, and many performances.  I performed in masterclasses for Wenzel Fuchs, Jonathan Cohler and Jorge Montilla.  I had lessons with Cynthia Doggett, Jorge Montilla, and Yuan Gao.  They were all amazing clarinetists, and working with them increased the level of my playing enormously in a very short time.  The week had so many events to prepare for that I practiced 4-6 hours every day to be ready for all of those lessons and masterclasses.

The people there were all clarinet nerds.  Most of the conversations at the workshop were about clarinet playing, and it was glorious.  Everyone was incredibly nice, and I made a lot of good friends.  The festival was the largest concentration of clarinetists at a higher level than I have ever had the privilege of working with.  Watching the many masterclasses taught me so many things, and also inspired me to work as hard as I can to be as good as I can possibly be on the clarinet.

I feel that this workshop has inspired me, and taught me more things in a single week than anything else I've experienced in my musical pursuits.  The festival was an astonishing success.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

International Clarinet Association High School Solo Competition

Today, I found out I made the finals of the ICA High School Solo Competition.  This competition is open to clarinetists who are 18 years old or younger all over the world.  The final round will take place during the first week in August in Lincoln, Nebraska at the ICA's Clarinetfest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It’s Progress Anyway…

Now that it’s been more than 2000 hours of practice, let’s look to see if there has been any progress.  I only count practice room hours, not rehearsal time with my chamber groups or orchestras or any other ensemble.

This is a video of me in 2009 after a couple hundred hours of practice.
After a couple hundred hours of practice at age 12.

This is a video of me in late 2010 after 1000 hours of practice.
After 1000 hours at age 13.

This is a video of me in 2012 after 2000 hours of practice.
After 2000 hours at age 14.

So practicing is definitely helping, but I feel like I still have a long way to go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Master Class with Jon Manasse

On Saturday, I played in a wonderful master class taught by Jon Manasse along with four other students:  Ryan Toher, Konrad Pawelek and Miguel Hernandez.  I thought Mr. Manasse was as good of a teacher as he is a performer.

I played second in the program on Weber's Concertino.  I started kind of tense, but after the beginning, I relaxed and played much better.  After I finished, Mr. Manasse asked how old I was.  When I told him 14, he said, "Wow!  I played that piece when I was fourteen."   He had a lot of good things to say about my playing, which made me feel a lot more comfortable -- I was really nervous.  He was an extremely nice and supportive teacher as well as being an informative one.

After that, we worked on tuning.  He first told me that there were 5 states of tuning:  in tune, sharp, flat, I don't know, and I don't care.  He said we could probably rule out "out don't care," and he had me play a tuning note with the piano.  He asked me if I thought I was sharp, flat, in tune, or I don't know.  I thought was out of tune, but I had to admit that I wasn't sure if I was sharp or flat.  Mr. Manasse said, it was good that I knew I wasn't in tune, and he said it was really hard for wind players to tell when they are a little off.  He said string players have an advantage, because they have to tune every time they play, so they have a lot of practice at hearing what it is to be sharp or flat, as they had to make adjustments every time.

He then asked me to play the beginning of my piece and told me to pay more attention and to adjust if it was out of tune.  Well, he told me that I tended to play a little sharp.  So he gave me some advice about how to work on tuning.  He said to put a tuner on a drone, and tune so you're really sharp.  Learn what it sounds like to be sharp.  Then, tune really flat, so you can be aware of what it sounds like to be really flat.  Then he said to work on different notes, and figure out what notes tend to be sharp or flat under differing conditions.

I liked the idea he had to learn how to recognize whether you are sharp or flat by playing sharp or flat on purpose in an exaggerated way to increase your awareness of your tuning.

Mr. Manasse was a really nice and informative teacher.  It was an amazing master class.  He gave me such good advice, and he did it in a way that made me feel good about my playing.  In fact, the theme of the master class was to remember why you play your instrument, to remember what you like about your playing, instead of taking a negative approach and focusing on what you don't like about your playing.  It's easy to get caught up in trying to perfect everything, and forget how much you love playing music.  I definitely do that sometimes!

Manasse Nakamazing Duo

Last Friday, I heard clarinetist, Jon Manasse, perform with pianist, Jon Nakamatsu at Northeastern University.  It was a breathtaking concert.  Both men are amazing musicians, and Mr. Manasse was really funny and entertaining when he spoke with the audience.

The first piece the duo played was the Brahms clarinet sonata.  This sonata is a gorgeous piece, and they played it beautifully.  Mr. Manasse's tone and expression were exquisite.  I think my favorite movement was the first, because Mr. Manasse conveyed a real sense of melancholy that was very moving.  One part of the performance that I particularly liked was Manasse's movement, which was very expressive.  Both musicians communicated really well, and they both seemed comfortable together.

After they played the Brahms, Mr. Manassee talked a little.  He spoke about the sonata, and he noted that a lot of composers seem to die after they write solo music for the clarinet.  Mozart, Brahms, and Poulenc, all apparently died after composing their famous clarinet pieces.  Mr. Manasse said he used to think that writing solo music for the clarinet must have killed them.  Although, he quickly noted that composing solo clarinet music now extends the lives of composers.

The last piece before intermission was a solo piano work by Chopin.  Mr. Nakamatsu was so technically proficient, but his phrasing and musicality were stunning.  I loved how he kept the sense of musicality even though the fast parts.

After the intermission, Mr. Manasse talked with the audience some more.  He was fun to listen to, and he started calling Mr. Nakamatsu "Nakamazing"  which I thought was pretty funny.  The first piece they played after intermission was Leonard Bernstein's Opus 1, his clarinet sonata.  This music has a few glissandos and I really liked how Mr. Manasse played them.

The last part of the concert was "Four Rags for Two Jons."  This was a really fun piece that Manasse and Nakamatsu performed astoundingly well.  It has a lot of parts which were meant for the audience to laugh at.  In many sections of the piece, the audience snaps with the soloists, and the pianist shouts things and stomps.  The end of the work is especially funny when the piano starts to play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and the clarinet keeps playing the theme from the piece.

Afterwards, the audience kept calling for ovations, and Mr. Manasse finally went to the microphone and said, "Well, you asked for it!"  He then played an arrangement of "I've Got Rhythm" for clarinet and piano, which I just loved.  It was a great end to an amazing concert.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Fist Fight at Symphony Center!!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Chicago Symphony Center to watch the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) perform and to take a lesson from John Bruce Yeh, assistant principal clarinet.

The lesson with Mr. Yeh was amazing.  We worked on the sonata for clarinet and piano by Martinu.  The two main things he focused on were finger position and phrasing.

Mr. Yeh started the lesson by having me play a little.  he stopped me right after I got through the most technically difficult part of the piece.  He said that I wasn't sealing the holes of the clarinet properly by first landing on them with the tip of my fingers and then flattening my knuckle to cover the entire hole.  Mr. Yeh told me that I had to make sure that my fingers always stayed curved and right about the holes.  I actually keep my fingers flat and farther away from where they should rest on the clarinet.  If my fingers are not right above the holes and my knuckles aren't bent, then the clarinet will not seal right away when I place my fingers on the keys, making technical sections much harder.  Good advice!

The other thing we worked on was phrasing.  Mr. Yeh wanted me to play like a string player.  This means that all of the different slurs or bow strokes need to be made clear with the tongue.  It also means that I have to make each slur in the Martinu its own phrase.  He also noticed that I was giving the long notes a crescendo, and he didn't like that.  Mr. Yeh said I should crescendo on the moving notes and decrescendo on the long notes.  I've not hear this advice before, so it was really good to hear.

After the lesson, I went to the concert.  It was a night of Brahms with Muti conducting.  First, Pinchas Zukerman played the Violin Concerto in D major and then we heard Brahms Symphony no. 2 in D major.  The concert was really cool!  The CSO played the Brahms 2nd Symphony.  I loved the whole thing, but my favorite part was the last movement.  It really ends on a bang.  The CSO brass and woodwinds are so amazing!  I loved the big brass finish at the end.  And Mr. Williamson, the new principal clarinet, was fantastic.

The best part of the Brahms was the last movement, but the most interesting part of the night happened after the 2nd movement.  The end of the 2nd movement is very quiet and dies down into nothing.  The audience was silent -- no one was even coughing, when suddenly two loud thumps were heard in succession.  Everyone looked around to see what could have made that noise.  I could see a commotion in one of the boxes, but I wasn't sure what was happening.  Muti handled it well and moved gracefully into the 3rd movement after making certain that everything was all right.  I thought maybe someone had had fallen or gotten sick or something.

I found out a couple of days after the concert that what we heard and saw was actually a fight in one of the boxes!  A 30 year old man and a 67 year old man were arguing over seats.  Eventually the younger man lost his temper and started hitting the older man!  The thumping was the sound of the older man falling down, I think.  After the incident, the 30 year old ran away.

Other than the disturbance, it was a wonderful evening.  I hope I will have more lessons with John Bruce Yeh in the future.  He is a great teacher.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

WFMT Introductions!

This Saturday, I am going to play on WFMT Introductions on the radio station 98.7 with my trio, the Triumvirate.  WFMT Introductions is a program that has a different youth chamber group or soloist come and play in the WFMT studio once a week.  A few weeks ago, the concert master of Midwest Young Artists, Jorie Butler-Geyer, played on this show.

The Triumvirate is a Piano-Viola-Clarinet trio consisting of myself, my brother Ari on viola, and Kevin Xu, a junior at Stephenson high school (My brothers high school), on piano.  My brother and I found Kevin through Midwest Young Artist's (MYA) chamber program.

We are playing the Kegelstatt trio by Mozart and Fairy Tales by Schumann.  The Kegelstatt trio is a piece I love and have been playing for a while.  It is the first piece written for this combination of instruments and has inspired many other composers to write for a Piano-Viola-Clarinet trio.  One of those composers was Schumann.  When Schumann heard the Kegelstatt being performed he was inspired to write for the combination.  Even though Fairy Tales was only written two years before Schumann's attempted suicide it is still very light in most places but, there are signs of agitation in some parts, especially in the second movement.

 I have never played on the radio and I am nervous but, I am also very excited to have this great opportunity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

9th Annual DePaul Concerto Festival for Young Performers

On Sunday (1/22/12), I got to play with the Oistrach Symphony Orchestra.  Earlier this month, I competed in the DePaul Concerto Festival Auditions, and I was chosen one of 13 winners to play my concerto with the orchestra.

For the clarinets they allowed the following pieces:  the Stamitz 3rd Concerto, the Weber Concertino, the 1st Weber Concerto, the 2nd Weber Concerto, and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.  Since I had been preparing the Rossini Introduction, Theme and Variations for the Walgreens Concerto competition, I chose to play the Weber Concertino for the DePaul audition, because I had learned it the year before.

My brother gave me the good news when the results were published two weeks ago.  I had been in a chamber rehearsal, so he told me in between rehearsals.  I was really excited, because I've never played with an orchestra before.

There was only one rehearsal with the orchestra.  The conductor Mina Zikri spent a long time on my piece.  I was absolutely terrified when it came time to rehearse with the orchestra.  I played pretty badly the first couple of run throughs.  The orchestra was playing a little fast for me, and I was having trouble keeping the technical parts in control.  I was kind of afraid to tell the conductor to slow down.  I was kind of afraid to say anything at all.  Before the final run through, there was a break.  During the break, a few other performers rehearsed, and a friend of mine from my youth orchestra, David Berghoff, arrived for his rehearsal.  He had won for viola.  After talking to David, I felt more comfortable and confident.  They asked me if I wanted to run through the piece again, and I did.  This time it went much better.  I was able to relax, and play my best.  It also helped that Susanne Baker, founder and director of the DePaul Community Music Division, told Mr. Zikri that I would like the Concertino taken at a slower tempo.

A few days later, it was finally time for the performance with the orchestra.  I arrived an hour early, and I warmed up for a while.  Right before the concert, I was called up to play one more run through of my piece with the orchestra before the concert.  I did really well on the run through.  Everything went well, and I thought I totally ready to perform for the audience.

About fifteen minutes later, they called me up for my performance.  I was first on the program.  When I walked up on the stage, I was a little nervous, but mostly I was feeling confident that I would do well.  I started the piece, I hit the first note perfectly, and it is an easy note to mess up.  Things were going well, and then I looked up at the audience, and I forgot what the next note was.  I never ever have this problem!  I'm not sure what happened.  Maybe I was terrified, but I had felt so confident when I walked up on the stage.  I managed to play through the rest of the piece, but it was shaky in a few sections, and I missed a few notes on the runs.  I made mistakes I never make!  I actually did well in the sections I was worried about, and I messed up things that I usually play extremely well.  I couldn't figure out what was happening!

Finally, I finished.  I was kind of glad when the performance was over, because I was afraid that I was totally going to lose it.  I guess playing in front of an audience is something I need to practice at to get better at.

Still, it was a good experience.  I was surprised that a couple of my friends from school, Ally and Rachel, came all the way downtown to watch me perform.  It was really nice of them to come.  The other soloists were amazing, and it was a privilege to perform in the same program with them.  David Berghoff's performance was great, and a 6th grade pianist from my school, Eric Lin, also did a sensational job.

The violinists who played:  Benjamin Ellenbogen, Hanway Wang, Jisun Lee,Serena Harnack and Hanna Bingham were absolutely stunning.  Many of the performances were flawless, and I was pretty daunted.  In the end, it was amazing to be there, and it was amazing to hear all of the performances.  The Oistrach Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mina Zikri, was fantastic, and it was a joy to hear them and a privilege to play with them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New York Trip

     Last month, I went to New York with my teacher Dileep Gangolli.  It was an amazing trip!  We flew to Laguardia airport, and we stayed with Dileep's brother Ashok.

     On Thursday, I saw the Metropolitan Opera play.  They did Satyagraha, an opera about Gandhi's years in South Africa.  The opera was very surreal.  It was in Sanskrit with Gandhi's writings in English projected on the wall.  There was also no recitative, which means it was all songs with no explanations or bridges.  It was weird, but also really cool.  I loved Gandhi's solo at the end.  It was incredibly long, and every moment of it was gorgeous.  Anthony McGill's part was kind of boring and supportive, unfortunately for me, because I always love to hear Mr. McGill play as much as possible.  But, of course, he executed it perfectly, like the brilliant and lyrical clarinetist he is.

     After the concert, my teacher and I went outside the Met opera house where we saw a bunch of occupy Wall Street protesters trying to get the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera and the audience members to join their protest.  I guess this was because the opera was about Gandhi, and he was a non-violent protester, like the Occupy protesters.

     On Friday morning, I went to see the New York Philharmonic play Mahler's tenth symphony.  I enjoyed the experience much better than when I saw them last year.  This was an acoustical issue, I think, because everyone knows how great the New York Philharmonic is.  Last year, we sat in the balconies on the side of the concert hall where the sound was really inconsistent, and the solists were almost inaudible.  This year, I sat on the ground level, and the acoustics were much much better.  The horns were great throughout the whole piece (Mahler has the best horn parts).  The violas sounded a little shaky in the second movement when they had their big soli, but again, I think this was a problem with the Avery Fischer Hall acoustics, which isn't able to project the beautiful and subtle sound of the viola section.  There were a couple of parts that didn't sound right to me, but I think this is because the celli and the violas suffer most from the sound issues in that concert hall.  We are lucky to have the Chicago Symphony Center here in Chicago.  In the last movement there was a beautiful flute solo which was executed to perfection by the principal flutist.  He was almost as good as Mathieu Dufour, but not quite, but I have to admit that I am biased, because I am from Chicago, and I support my hometown orchestra.

     After seeing the orchestra play, we went to this wonderful French Bistro where I got a really great sandwich.  Later that afternoon, I had a lesson with Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  It was an amazing experience, just like last year.  Mr. McGill had some really great insights into playing Rossini, which he shared with me.  He helped me balance the pressure I was placing on the reed when playing the high notes, and it helped my highest notes become more in tune.  He also gave me insight into dynamics.  He said to think of dynamics as a style of playing and not a volume.  This is a really good way to think about it.  We finished the day with dinner at a great Italian restaurant.  I had the lamb.

     On Saturday, I went to see Will, a friend of mine who I met at Interlochen, who lives in the New York suburbs.  Will's dad took us to the natural history museum where we spent most of our time in the jungle and African Peoples section.  It was really interesting tracing the African Peoples through the years and looking at their art.  I spent that night at Will's house.

     On Sunday, Will's dad dropped me back off at Dileep's brother's house.  We went from there to the airport.  When I got back to Chicago, I went straight back to my chamber rehearsal at Midwest Young Artists.  It was one busy weekend!

     I had an amazing time in New York.  I enjoy vising New York a lot, but I think I like Chicago the best.

It's Been Too Long Since My Last Blog Post

December was a really busy month!  I went with my teacher to New York to have a lesson with Anthony McGill again.  My youth orchestra (Midwest Young Artists) played several Christmas concerts in area malls, and I was busy preparing for the Walgreens Concerto Competition and the DePaul Concerto Festival.  Plus I performed a family concert with my great aunt Corean who is a concert pianist.

I won the wind category of the junior MYA division of the Walgreens playing the Rossini Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet, and I won the clarinet category at the DePaul Concerto Festival, playing the Weber Concertino.  I think this means I will get to play the Weber Concertino with the Oistrach Symphony Orchestra later this month.

Also, my chamber trio auditioned for WFMT Introductions, and we were selected to play on January 28.  We will be playing the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio (k. 498) and the Schumann Marchenerzahlungen for viola, clarinet and piano.  I'm really excited about playing, but I'm kind of scared of the interview part.