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.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Jorge Montilla

Last week, Venezuelan clarinetist Jorge Montilla came to Chicago April 19th and 20th to play with the

Chicago Clarinet Ensemble (CCE). He played a solo concert Friday night, gave a masterclass, and played with the CCE in a concert featuring him.  Montilla is an amazing clarinetist whom I think is the best Eb player in the world.  As one of the members of the CCE said, "it was like it was a real instrument."  If you have heard many of us (like me) play the Eefer, you will understand how much of a compliment this is!  It was a great weekend, filled with wonderful perforamnces, and I was so excited to get to be a part of it all.

I had met Jorge Montilla last summer when I went to a clarinet camp at which he was teaching.  I learned then that he is not only a wonderful performer, he is also a great teacher!

The first time I saw Mr. Montilla during his recent stay in Chicago was on Friday during a CCE rehearsal for the concert on Saturday.  He played beautifully, and during a break in the rehearsal, he came up to me, clasped me on the shoulder, and asked how I have been since he had last saw me.  I was really happy that he remembered who I was!

That same night, I heard him play his solo concert.  All I can say is, "Wow!"  Mr. Montilla played the first half of the concert on Bb clarinet and sounded quite sublime.  My favorite piece that he played in this part of the concert was an arrangement he made of Cierra Los Ojos y Eschucha by Piazolla.  Cierra Los Ojos y Eschucha means "Close your eyes and listen" in Spanish.  Before he played the piece, he asked us to do just that and try to imagine the beautiful mountains and plains of Argentina that Piazolla was trying to capture when we wrote this piece for solo violin.  The thing about Jorge Montilla's playing that stuck out the most was his vibrato.  I have never heard any other clarinetist ever play with such gorgeous vibrato in all of my life.   Don't get me wrong.  Many clarinets use a very good vibrato, but Montilla's stands out over anything I have heard.  It is as wide and as colorful as the vibrato of any string player, and it gives his music a very distinct, personal and intimate sound.

For the second half of the concert he played the Eb clarinet.  He played every piece with such vibrancy that everyone in the hall was completely captivated by every note he played.  My  favorite piece was the Alfred Prinz Sonata for Eb Clarinet and Piano.  The first and third movement are very beautiful and the second movement is incredibly fast (hence the title "As Fast as Possible").  My favorite movement was the fourth.  Most of this movement is Rossini opera and overture melodies with brief virtuosic interludes.  Near the end there is an excerpt from Strauss's Till Eugenspiel in which there is a very famous Eb clarinet solo.  The effect is very funny, and I found it quite entertaining.  The Prinz is a really fun and exiting piece of music.  I have to say that every piece Mr. Montilla presented was executed with style, beauty, transcendent musicality, and the flying technical proficiency that marks him as a world-class clarinetist.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Crain-Maling Foundation's Chicago Symphony Orchestra Youth Auditions 2013

Yesterday, I won the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Youth Auditions!
This means that next year I will get to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 4 times!!!  It was a great experience playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.  The six other finalists (Elizabeth Chang, Max Farbman, Sarah Householder, Allison Milligan, Saayujh Ramanathan, and Nicolaj Reiser) were all amazing and it was an honor and a privilege to play in a competition with all of them.

I want to give an especially exuberant shout-out to fellow Midwest Young Artists Symphony Orchestra member and first alternate in the CSO Youth Auditions:  Sarah Householder.  She played the third movement of Ewazen's  Concerto for Marimba in which the percussionist uses four mallets (two in each hand).  You would think that this would be difficult enough.  But for Sarah, it became even more difficult when towards the beginning of her performance, the ball on one of her mallets broke off!  In spite of her mallet breaking, she wasn't fazed.  She gave a brilliant performance.  Because she couldn't play with the broken mallet which was now just a wooden stick, she compensated.  She switched the broken mallet around so that it was playing the less important notes in any section. She hit the notes she thought were most important so as not to break up the phrases any more than necessary.  Amazing!

I am proud to say that I play in an orchestra with someone as capable, musical, talented and cool under stress as Sarah.

The CSO Youth Auditions were a great experience for everyone there.  I am happy to say that I didn't feel quite as nervous as I normally do when I perform.  I think I'm starting to get used to this performing thing.  That's a really good thing.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

1/3 of the Way There!!!

As of February 16, 2013, I have practiced over 3,333 hours.  That means I am 1/3 of the way to my goal!

Here are some videos that document my progress.

3,000+ Hours, Mozart Clarinet Concerto I. Allegro
9th grade, age 15 (2013)

2,000 Hours, Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations
8th grade, age 14 (2012)

1,000+ Hours, Weber Concertino
7th grade, age 13 (2011)

200+ Hours, Finzi's Five Bagatelles III. Carol
5th grade, age 11 (2009)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicago Youth in Music Festival

Monday night I had the opportunity to rehearse under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya with the Chicago Youth in Music Festival Orchestra at Symphony Center.  The Chicago Youth in Music Festival is celebration of the achievements of young musicians across the Chicago area.  Local high school students are selected in an audition process to play with mentors from the Chicago Civic Orchestra in a collaboration.  We auditioned in the fall, and we rehearsed through December and January with Cliff Colnot, a conductor, educator and musician and the Principal Conductor of the Civic Orchestra since 1994.

The experience was supposed to culminate in an open rehearsal with Maestro Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's conductor and music director.  We were all pretty excited about getting to play with Maestro Muti.  He is an amazing conductor and one of the best known known musicians in the world.  Unfortunately, Maestro Muti came down with the flu and had to cancel all of his appearances this week.  We were all really disappointed.  But, Maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya agreed to substitute for Muti at the last minute.  He is a Grammy-nominated and Emmy Award-winning conductor who will soon be the Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Oslo.  Now he is the Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the Founder and Artistic Director of Caminos del Inka, a non-profit dedicated to performing and promoting the music of the Americas.  Maestro Harth-Bedoya was an amazing conductor.

I was playing 2nd clarinet with Joe Sanchez, who is a member of the Chicago Civic and a graduate of DePaul's School of Music.  Joe is a really talented clarinetist!  The two pieces we played were the first two movements of Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony and the overture to Verdi's Sicilian Vespers.   Both pieces have an important second clarinet part which was really cool.  We started with the Tchaikovsky.  The Tchaikovsky starts with a first and second clarinet unison soli that lasts a whole 2 minute.  The first time we played through it during the open rehearsal, Joe and I were not at all together at the beginning   We quickly got back together and play the rest of the piece extremely well.  After he orchestra played through the first movement, maestro Harth-Bedoya worked with Joe and I on playing louder when playing the piano at the beginning, and quieter when playing the pianissimo.  I think this really helped us make the beginning more dramatic while still following the dynamics.  He spent most the time working with the other people, getting them to accompany us better. 

Throughout the rehearsal, the thing I noticed most about maestro Harth-Bedoya was that he did everything with a lot of emotion.  You could tell he was immersed in the music, and that helped me get immersed in the music too.  During the rehearsal, you could tell that the orchestra was befitting significantly from his advice.  Another great part of the experience of playing in the festival orchestra was the advice Joe gave me on playing second clarinet.  For example, he told me I had to play louder than the first clarinet whenever I was playing the lower octave in a section.  This allows his high notes to have a solid base to float over.  I always thought that 2nd clarinet would play quieter than 1st clarinet, but Maestro Harth-Bedoya made a very good point, because the lower register doesn't project like the upper register.

The best part of the experience was probably getting to play in an orchestra of that level and getting to play in an orchestra that has a reasonable amount of people.  My orchestra is huge!  For example, it has 6 clarinets, 7 flutes, 6/7 oboes, and 4 bassoons.  In an orchestra of that size, you aren't anywhere near as exposed as you are in an orchestra with two winds on a part.  Also, you don't have to play as loud when you have solos because there are less strings to play over.  I loved playing in the orchestra, and I hope I'll have another chance to play in the festival orchestra in two years when it meets again. 

Broken Clavicle!

I haven't written since November, but here's what has been happening with me.  
Making pizza in my clavicle brace.

A few weeks ago I broke my clavicle playing volleyball!  This made practicing over winter break very difficult.  

The worst thing was that I had the Walgreens concerto competition at the end of the month.  After breaking my clavicle, I took about a week off of practicing to rest.  The next week, I could practice a little without too much pain, and so I spent the next week gaining back everything I had lost during my break.  This caused me to lose an effective two weeks of practice right before a competition!

 Even after I started practicing again, it still hurt and so I couldn't practice as much as I would have liked the week before the competition when I was back at back level I was playing before my injury.  After my performance at the competition, I felt that I did the best I could do in the situation.  I got honorable mention, so I can't complain. but I wish I hadn't injured myself so I would have had more time to prepare for the competition.  Maybe next time, I'll listen to my doctor when he says not to play any sports.