by Sam Davies
ClarinetFest® 2015 in Madrid continued in full swing with its second day, packed with clarinet events of all kinds. At 3:30 on Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a lecture-recital presented by Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr and Walter Verdehr of the world-renowned Verdehr Trio. In 1972, these two fine musicians started their violin/clarinet/piano trio, working over the years with pianists Gary Kirkpatrick and Silvia Roederer. At first, they mainly performed works from the standard repertoire for that chamber ensemble, such as Bartók’s Contrasts. But, as Ludewig-Verdehr said, they realized they wouldn’t be able to play the same few pieces for the rest of their career, so they began commissioning new works and creating their own arrangements. Some 40 years later, and after giving concerts in 58 countries, their tireless work has contributed at least 220 new trios for the repertoire. “It’s around 220, I haven’t counted them recently,” says Ludewig-Verdehr!
The event began with a recital, a survey of the vastly diverse compositional styles present in the Verdehr Trio’s repertoire. The trio themselves officially retired recently, so the recital was given by the VCP International Trio, consisting of Wesley Warnhoff on clarinet, Diana Moisejenkaite on violin, and Edisher Savitski on piano. They performed works from eight composers, some complete but brief works, and some movements of larger works. The VCP International Trio performed beautifully, effortlessly switching gears between each work to accommodate the huge range of emotion, technique, and character present in this diverse program.
After the performance, the Verdehrs gave a brief lecture on the history of their trio before showing some clips from one installment of their DVD series Making of a Medium. In addition to commissioning hundreds of works, the Verdehr Trio recorded over 20 CDs, and produced a DVD series of interviews with many of the composers they worked with over their decades of performances. “We thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have videos of some of the great composers like Beethoven and Brahms, to hear their voices and see what they have to say. So we decided to document our interactions with our living composers,” says Verdehr. The DVD clips included interviews with composers such as Peter Schickele, Joan Tower, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Peter Sculthorpe, among many others.
The two members of the trio shared amusing anecdotes from their experiences with composers, many of whom they described as wonderful people and at times eccentric characters. Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr encouraged the young audience to perform some of the Trio’s commissioned works, and then to begin commissioning new works. She advised the audience to be persistent when working with composers, telling a story about the composer Menotti: “Six months before an important concert, he said the work would be ready soon. Three months before, he said it would be ready soon. One month before, he said he hadn’t started writing it yet, but that it was coming along!”
The influence of the Trio’s career has been far-reaching, sparking the creation of many other professional trios around the world in the last few decades. Even at ClarinetFest 2015 the Trio’s effect on the repertoire of the clarinet/violin/piano trio is unescapable, as several other programs feature works commissioned by the Verdehr Trio and other new works for the genre. On Wednesday, July 22, at 10:30am, the Trio Impromptu of New York (Dennis Dougherty, clarinet; Yelena Kuzmenko, piano; Olga Dusheina Dougherty, violin) gave a world premiere recital of new works from 2014 and 2015, and on Saturday, July 25th at 11:00am, the Sapphire Trio (Maxine Ramey, clarinet; Margaret Baldridge, violin; Jody Graves, piano) will perform two works by Charles Nichols and Peter Sculthorpe from the Verdehr repertoire. The Verdehr Trio, one of the most influential chamber groups of our time, is a veritable treasure trove of musical knowledge and an inspiration to clarinetists around the world!
Today, the city was not so lucky to receive a cooling downpour like yesterday. Set up in the central open courtyard of the Conde Duque is a wonderful impromptu bar/cafe, built mostly from pallets, with umbrellas, tables, a tent strung with lights and equipped with misting devices to cool the crowds, and a few trucks offering delicious Spanish food. If it wasn’t in an 18th-century Spanish landmark, it could easily be a scene out of Austin, TX, Ann Arbor, MI, or Nashville, TN! By 8:30pm, this courtyard was crowded with hundreds of people drinking all manner of cool beverages, waiting to attend the evening Buffet, Vandoren, and D’Addario Gala concert, which was held at 9:30 in the Conde Duque Patio Sur, another open courtyard across from the cafe area.
The oppressive heat of the day made for dry air and crystal clear skies, which may have had something to do with the spectacular sunset which turned the few remaining clouds a lovely mixture of pink and blue. This natural artwork peaked in intensity just before the outdoor concert, the colors slowly fading into darkness as the musical evening progressed and a steady breeze finally offered some relief from the afternoon heat.
The gala event was performed by the Banda Sinfónica Municipal de Madrid, under the direction of Francisco Javier Martínez Arcos. This enormous band (which delightfully included several cellos mixed in with the saxophones!) played marvelously for the packed audience of hundreds of ClarinetFest participants and local community members. The concert opened with Manuel de Falla’s (1876-1946) Danza No. 1 de “La Vida Breve,” a wonderful piece that gave many of the band members solo opportunities to show off their skills. The second work, composed by J. Salvador González, was Lara, Fantasia para clarinete y banda, with wonderful performances by soloists Philippe Cuper and Carlos Alves.
Next was Pablo de Sarasate’s (1844-1908) Fantasía sobra la ópera Carmen (arr. N. Baldeyrou) with Nicolas Baldeyrou as clarinet soloist. With virtuosic violin-like playing, jumping up and down the full range of the clarinet effortlessly and with featherlike articulation, Baldeyrou took the audience through a tour of the major arias from Carmen, some of which are without a doubt among the world’s most well known tunes from opera and all of classical music. Next on the program was a work that contrasted sharply with the evening’s program of Latin American and Spanish music: Artie Shaw’s (1910-2004) Concerto (Arr. Ted Parson) with Julian Hervé as soloist. The big (in size) band lived up to its name and performed this huge jazzy work with admirable American style. Hervé, equally a virtuoso on the jazz clarinet, dazzled the audience with the piece’s challenging solo part, all the way up to the final unforgettable last note, a double high C.
The program, bookended with works by Manuel de Falla, ended with the banda’s rendition of El Sombrero de Tres Picos, Suite No. 2. (“The Three-Cornered Hat”). The work also featured some excellent solos from some of the principal players in the band. The last movement served as an excellent conclusion for the evening, featuring some grand tutti moments accented by several castanets and triangles in the percussion section.
As everyone filed out of the courtyard and across to the cafe/bar, the speakers started pumping upbeat pop music, and everyone quickly and readily returned to eating and drinking, as one must do after a concert in Spain!
This review represents the author’s experience, and does not necessarily represent the views of the I.C.A.
Sam Davies recently completed his second year of DMA study with Dr. Guy Yehuda at Michigan State University. At MSU Davies can be heard performing with the Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, chamber ensembles, and new student compositions. He served as a reporter for ClarinetFest 2014 in New Orleans.