ClarinetFest® 2015 Day 3 (Friday)

I.C.A. board member Stephan Vermeersch enjoying the day in Madrid:

Young clarinetists enjoying a group play-along:

Philippe Cuper and Harry Sparnay
Philippe Cuper and Harry Sparnay

Friday Evening Gala Concert sponsored by Selmer
by Sam Davies

The third evening Gala concert at ClarinetFest® 2015 in Madrid took place at 10:00 p.m. at the Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Buen Suceso. This event was generously sponsored by Selmer, who are celebrating their 130th anniversary of Selmer’s beginning in Paris in 1885.

The venue was a fascinating church, a mixture of old and new. From the outside it appeared much like a nondescript brutalist-style office building, save for the massive, simple cross. The interior formed a large and round sanctuary, and the ceiling, a huge octagon of lovely dark wood with intricate paneling, gave way to a massive organ near the top of wall, with its pipes pointing straight out to the congregation. Beneath the organ, rounded white stone walls made one feel as if the concert was taking place inside a stereotypical alien spacecraft from the movies, repurposed into a church, and for tonight, a concert hall!

The concert was performed by the Cuarteto de Cuerda de la Orquesta Nacional de España, a lovely string quartet made up of Joan Espina Dea, violin; Mario Pérez Blanco, violin; Bruno Vargas Calero, viola; and Ángel Luis Quintana, cello. First on the program was Carl Mara von Weber’s Quintet, Op. 34 performed by Steve Williamson, the recently appointed principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This wonderful piece of music worked perfectly with the church’s excellent sound. A slight ring in the sound of the hall was like whipped cream on top of Williamson’s meticulously perfect tone, as the end of each phrase melted perfectly into the silence of the church.

One special moment stood out in the second movement, when the clarinet has a mini cadenza, a forte ascending scalar passage, followed by the same passage played at a pianissimo dynamic. In both of these spots, Williamson played the second run so incredibly softly one couldn’t be quite sure if he was even playing. Often, as teachers we tell our students to make more dynamic contrast, and as students we have all been told that by our teachers! Why? Because moments like this are truly special, something so quiet it immediately catches the attention of the packed audience, and the silence that comes after has an electric energy as the listeners wait to see what will come next.

Williamson’s stunningly musical playing in the pianissimo lyrical section was equally matched by his virtuosic technique and articulation in the hard parts (the entire piece!), which the ensemble played at an extremely fast and exciting tempo, to say the least; the tempo must have been something approaching the speed of light. In the last movement, these wonderful players pushed the music to its limits, and at the unforgettable finale, seemed like they were about ready to take off!

Next on the program was another of our repertoire’s greatest chamber masterworks, Mozart’s Quintet K.581, with Javier Balaguer Doménech, principal clarinet of the Orquesta Nacional de España, as clarinet soloist. What can be said about a flawless performance of a flawless piece of music? Mozart’s timeless grace and elegance was perfectly brought to life through the ensemble’s pristine musicality. At the end of the last movement, the lively coda picked up the tempo. The constant repeated notes from the string quartet brought the piece to its conclusion, giving the audience a bit of a spring in their steps as everyone quickly went out to enjoy the rest of the evening and the Spanish nightlife of Madrid!


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.

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