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.