Sunday, November 9, 2014

More than 1/2 way there!

When I was in sixth grade, I read Coyle’s The Talent Code and Gladwell’s Outliers.  They argued that being good at most things was more a matter of work than the result of innate talent.  So I decided to conduct an experiment.  I began keeping track of my clarinet practice hours.  My goal was to practice for 10,000 hours.  Then, I would look at how far I’d gotten, to see if Gladwell and Coyle were correct.

This was the start of an amazing journey.  I passed the 5000 hour mark this past summer  on the NYO-USA tour,  and as I look back, I can see how much I’ve grown as a musician, and more importantly, as a human being.

So much has happened!  I’ve soloed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performed at Carnegie Hall with NYO, and played the national anthem at a Chicago Bulls game.  I’ve toured China, France, and Belgium as the principal clarinet of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and Midwest Young Artists.  I’ve worked with amazing conductors like Carlos Miguel Prieto and David Robertson, and I’ve had lessons with incredible clarinetists such as Anthony McGill, Burt Hara, Steve Cohen, John Bruce Yeh, Wenzel Fuchs, and Stephen Williamson.

But what does this list really mean?  Whenever I win an audition or a competition, I feel a surge of pride and self-accomplishment, but the defeats and the failures have probably taught me the most.  I still remember getting third chair in my youth orchestra after spending an eternity practicing for the audition.  I felt terrible, but I realized that losing an audition was an opportunity to focus upon how much I have left to learn.

At this point, I have 4,445 hours of practice left to reach that 10,000 hour goal.  And then, who knows?  Maybe I’ll take up ballroom dancing.  But probably I’ll stick with clarinet because music has come to define who I am.  I don’t know what all of this will amount too, but I know that I will keep on working and consequently keep on failing.  As Stephen Dedalus said in Ulysses, “errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

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.