Assisi, Italy | July 24-28, 2013
By Dr. John Masserini
Author’s Note: Due to the number of concerts and events, as well as the overwhelming number of performances in venues occurring at the same time, every presentation, master class, and recital could not be reviewed and cannot be mentioned in this online article. A huge debt of gratitude goes out to the 17-member Review Team, listed at the end of this article.
Perched on a hill high above sun-drenched valleys, vibrant sunflower fields, and the bucolic charm of the Umbria region lies the medieval village of Assisi. This birthplace of St. Francis seems to be frozen in time, with much to be explored and experienced among its steep hills: cobblestone streets with hidden winding alleyways; monks, nuns and pilgrims in their sacred garb making their way to the Basilica Di San Francesco; the partially excavated Foro Romano on the Piazza del Comune where tourists and locals congregate; charming trattorias and gelaterias around every corner; and for a brief time in late July, ClarinetFest® 2013.
Assisi was experiencing unseasonably hot weather during the conference and, obviously, medieval cities and their venues are not expected to be outfitted with modern air conditioning. Despite these challenging and unavoidable performance conditions, which could not be prevented by anyone, the performers, master class participants, lecturers and vendors deserve to congratulate themselves. Every one of these fine artists and professionals “sweated it out” and made this conference one that can be remembered for the high quality and variety of performances, presentations and product representation that we come to enjoy each year at ClarinetFest®.
It is important to note that the wide variety of mediums and delivery methods – unique chamber ensembles, the use of electronics and performance on “auxiliary” instruments – has increased tremendously over the past few years at ClarinetFest®. It is refreshing to see the wide range of professionals presenting newly commissioned or rarely performed works, displaying current trends in the music field, and reaching beyond the typical solo clarinet or clarinet and piano mediums. This paradigm shift can have a tremendous potential for us: displaying seemingly endless possibilities for the clarinet among the greater landscape of music to our students and future clarinet artists in attendance.
Day one of the conference began as most ClarinetFests® do, with the Board Recital and a smattering of performances throughout the day. The Board Recital opened with Béla Kovács’ Il Carnevale di Venezia, Variations for Clarinet and Piano (a little bit differently) beautifully performed by Keith Koons. This unique set of variations intrigued the audience with various styles, including a tango and a samba, and Koons displayed his great interpretive ability as well as navigating the fast scale passages with ease. Next, John Cipolla demonstrated superb control and dexterity with implementation of extended techniques in New Mythologies by Brad Baumgardner. Maxine Ramey and the Sapphire Trio offered a warm blend of timbres and pleasing tones with Thomas David’s Trio No. 2 and Paul Chihara’s Shogun Trio. The group closed their portion of the program with Philip Martin’s Carnival Evening, delighting the audience with their technique and tight collaboration. Next was the world premiere of Craig Weston’s Aspects, performed by clarinetist Tod Kerstetter with Jacqueline Fassler-Kerstetter on French horn and Amanda Arrington on piano. The group performed with great control, demonstrating sensitivity with dynamics and delicate ensemble playing. The final performance of the recital was Caroline Hartig, demonstrating even tone and first-rate technique in Ernesto Cavallini’s Fiori Rossiniani, finishing with a flourish of fingers, sparkle and color. Wednesday also featured the first of many unique works and ensembles, starting with Jessica Lindsey performing From the Far Away, Nearby, a newly commissioned work for bass clarinet and computer that utilizes real-time sound processing. The Stark Quartet and Terminal Quartet also performed on Wednesday, with special mention of the Terminal Quartet’s unique instrumentation (two clarinets, bassoon and accordion), outstanding arrangements and enthusiastic performance.
The first of the large evening concerts at the spectacular Lyrick Theater featured an all-star lineup, including several of the most prominent Italian clarinet soloists, all accompanied expertly by the Band of the Italian State Police. Artistic Director and Host of ClarinetFest® 2013 Piero Vincenti, performed the E-flat clarinet solo in the world premiere of Antonio Conti’s wind orchestra arrangement of Canzone popolare Napolitana e Tarantella by Ernesto Cavallini, charming the audience with his fluid technique and colorful sound. Next, Calogero Palermo performed the beloved Fantasia da concerto su motivi del “Rigoletto” by Luigi Bassi, demonstrating supreme control of his instrument as he juxtaposed tender expression and virtuoso passagework. Palermo played with a round yet powerful sound that never compromised his impeccable intonation. Following a short but rousing feature from the Band of Italian State Police, Robert DiLutis and William Blayney shared the stage to give a conversational account of Amilcare Ponchielli’s Il Convegno. Their resonant sounds blended well together, and they performed the piece with polish and ease. Taking the stage as the final soloist of the evening, Corridor Giuffredi premiered Michele Mangani’s Verdiana. Fantasia su temi da opera di G. Verdi, arranged for band accompaniment specifically commissioned for ClarinetFest® 2013. Giuffredi’s performance was stunning: his precise expression, effortless articulation, and focused sound radiated character from the very first note as he maintained an organic, singing quality in his playing. Led by conductor Maurizio Billi, the Band of the Italian State Police accompanied all of the soloists and appropriately highlighted their excellent clarinet section, which skillfully negotiated a number of technically difficult passages in many of the works. At the conclusion of the powerful Marcia Trionfale e Finale from Aida, the band was given a standing ovation and performed an encore.
Thursday was the first full day of the conference, and it was packed with recitals, master classes, lectures and time during the day to visit the wide range of top-notch vendors in attendance. The morning began with a number of unique performances, compositions and mediums starting with a delightful concert of Australian compositions for bass clarinet and electronics performed by Diana Tolmie. Her performance also included a premiere of Let it go to the fire and smoke for bass clarinet by Susan Hawkins. Immediately following Tolmie’s recital in the Cittadella Theater was a fantastic performance with bass clarinet and electronics by Belgian artist Stephan Vermeersch. The highlight of this concert was Hommage à Louis Sclavis for bass clarinet and amplification written by Vermeersch. Audiences have come to expect Mr. Vermeersch’s performances to be highly entertaining and cutting-edge, and this concert certainly did not disappoint. Up the hill in the Metastasio Theater, BYU clarinet professor Jaren Hinckley and pianist Federico Nicoletta presented a delightfully colorful program by contemporary composers. Hinkley demonstrated an impressive spectrum of sound and displayed impressive dexterity negotiating the rapid repetitive figures, and seamlessly integrated flutter-tonguing, glissando, color fingerings and quartertones into his performance. Next, Banda Bassetti (clad in matching red T-shirts, green baseball caps and black Lone Ranger-style masks) with clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi took the stage and entertained the audience with a basset horn choir concert. This group played with a deep resonance and blended sounds throughout all registers, maintained great intonation and featured lyrical solos. Gabriele Mirabassi dazzled the audience with his suave jazzy sounds and otherworldly technical prowess. High above all other ClarinetFest® venues in the intimate Instabili Theater, Daniel Silver presented several interesting works by Ferdinand Rebay for clarinet and guitar. Special mention should be given to Blues Tarantella by Boulder-based composer Bill Douglas, written for Mr. Silver and the 2013 ClarinetFest®. In the Sala della Volte, Icelandic clarinetists Einar Jóhannesson and Ármann Helgason presented familiar and new works for clarinet duo, including the premier of a 30-year-old single-movement Duo by Áskell Másson. This well-written, short work showcased excellent intonation and ensemble playing by the soloists. Their performance of another premier, Spil III by Elín Gunnlaugsdóttir, referenced St. Francis’s Sermon to the Birds throughout the body of the work; complete with flutter-tonguing, trills and short notes.
Several outstanding performances occurred Thursday afternoon, starting with an excellent recital by Ball State University clarinet professor Elizabeth Crawford, performing works on D and E-flat clarinets. Johann Molter’s first concerto was performed with impeccable intonation and an informed Baroque style. Followed by the technically demanding Crazy by Scott McAllister and a Cappelli work on E-flat clarinet, Libby certainly didn’t struggle, and tossed off both of these showpieces with ease. Julia Heinen treated her audience to four pieces by Frank Campo and entranced the audience with her silky tone, technical prowess and elegant phrasing. American clarinetist Diana Haskell joined her colleague, violinist John Haspel Gilbert, and pianist Federico Nocoletta in Ed Ydzinky’s Hasty Fragments (written in honor of clarinetist and pedagogue Stanley Hasty) and Gian Carlo Menotti’s neo-Romantic Trio for violin, clarinet and piano. Haskell played with a beautiful, well-controlled tone at all dynamic levels throughout the recital, and she exhibited solid musical maturity in refined and communicative phrasing – especially in the Menotti, where there were moments of great beauty. Troy State clarinetist Timothy Philips performed a recital of works for clarinet, soprano, and piano featuring works by Ravel, Vollrath, and Kern/Hammerstein. Mr. Phillips’s clarinet lines served to heighten the emotional journey undertaken by soprano Christi Amonson, whose crystal clear diction was striking, in Carl Vollrath’s song cycle “Love Songs.” In the Cittadella Theater, Greek clarinetist George Kazikos played two works by contemporary Greek composers, including Dimitris Svintridis’ ambitious The beginning and the end of the world for clarinet and electronics. Svintridis’ work was masterfully handled by Kazikos with an extensive electronics part from his laptop and was an impressive tour de force on this program. Kazikos was a virtuosic collaborator with Svintridis on the four-movement work, and he carried off the many techniques, including double-tonguing and high register glissandi, with ease and conviction. Following this performance was the dynamic Italian clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi performing a concert of lighter fare with the Bruno Maderna String Orchestra and accordionist Christian Riganelli. Mirabassi had immaculate control over both sustained passages and technical work at the softest dynamic levels. In fact, his technique was dazzling at every dynamic, and his high register articulation was particularly top-drawer. The last piece on the program, Cyberphonia by Italian composer/violinist Marcello Fera, was the program’s tour de force, utilizing rhythmic intensity and folk elements reminiscent of klezmer and Bulgarian wedding music. Finally, Cynthia Doggett and her Flyt Trio composed of clarinet, piano and dancer performed one of the more interesting and unique programs of the conference. Along with two movements of Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles with original choreography by dancer Kimberly Crislip Payne, she also performed two movements of Nikola Resonovic’s Sonata, which she commissioned and premiered in 2010. The multi-disciplinary nature and uniqueness of this concert certainly set it apart from others during the conference.
Thursday night’s performance in the Lyrick Theater was a true tour de force of clarinetists. Ricardo Morales, Philippe Cuper, Rocco Parisi, Eddy Vanoosthuyse and Kari Krikku delighted the large audience from start to finish. Accompanied by the Bruno Maderna Chamber Orchestra and conducted by Marco Pontini, each artist demonstrated specific aspects of exquisite artistry, while also allowing their personal and unique voice to shine through. There were truly “stand-out” aspects of all the performances, and the first worth mentioning has to be Ricardo Morales performing Rossini’s Introduction, Theme, and Variations. While audiences rarely hear anything but exquisite performing from Mr. Morales, the experience of hearing him play goes beyond the typical perfunctory accolades: he is the embodiment of the clarinet sound and experience. The pure, full and dark tone as well as the seamless technique simply flows from his being; all the while he shows no sign of struggle or effort. Magical moments occurred in the second movement of Baermann’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 23, performed by Philippe Cuper: his exquisite sound and sensitive interpretation captivated the audience. Eddy Vanoosthuyse performed Mercadante’s Concerto in B-flat for Clarinet and Orchestra, and it was a great opportunity to hear this lesser-known work. Rocco Parisi dazzled the audience with his big bass clarinet sound, color shifts in the upper register and ease of technique throughout Blues for Bass Clarinet and Strings by Ante Grgin. Finishing off the evening was an energetic and delightful performance by Kari Krikku. His entire performance was an exciting and eclectic collage of klezmer and Middle-Eastern inspired works, complete with tap dancing, humor and stunning technique. The audience left feeling inspired and satisfied.
Friday featured several “standout” recitals, beginning with an incredible concert by the Nubilaria Clarinet Choir in the Metastasio Theater. These nine Italian clarinetists (some of whom were amateurs) showcased excellent intonation and ensemble throughout the performance. The highlight for many in the audience was the cinematic last piece, Spirit of Freedom, written for the group by Michele Mangani, who was in attendance. Keith Lemmons performed a concert of all pieces for clarinet alone for a loyal and appreciative audience. The Cittadella Theater saw four unique and truly outstanding performances, one after the other. Performers Arthur Campbell and Paolo De Gaspari used electronics in their recitals, but more specifically, interacted with live musicians controlling the electronics during the performance, instead of having electronics simply “running” in the background. This type of live collaboration with electronics was a welcome sight and, especially in Gaspari’s works with bass clarinet and live electronics, it added a refreshing layer to the typical electronic-acoustic medium. Once the stage was cleared of wires and microphones, Diane Barger took the stage and delighted the audience with an entire recital of E-flat clarinet works. One rarely hears such depth of sound from an E-flat clarinet, and Ms. Barger not only produced a sound that was rich and full, but with impeccable intonation and technique. Where Barger really shines is virtuoso fantasies, and the Ballabile con Variazioni nel ballo ‘Ettore Fieramosca’ was truly spectacular. The last of this group of truly outstanding performances in the Citadella Theater was the virtuoso display of sound, tone color, technique and musicianship of Philippe Berrod. What stood out over all other aspects of his performance was the display of personality and control of sound and character throughout the music. Other outstanding performances of Friday morning included the bass clarinet quartet Edmund Welles. They brought their hard driving “heavy chamber music” to the Sala della Volte for one of the most anticipated concerts at ClarinetFest®. Joined by Stephen Vermeersch filling in for Jeff Anderle, the group performed a program of compositions by Cornelius Boots and Aaron Novick. The volume, range and musical effects evoked from the group was awe-inspiring, and their last work, Prayer in my Mouth, was met with such enthusiasm and applause that the audience insisted on an encore.
Among other morning recitals worth mentioning was an excellent pairing of contemporary works by Maureen Hurd Hause with her saxophone colleague Paul Cohen and pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti. In this recital, Sound Moves Blues by Robert Aldridge displayed idiomatic writing for all the instruments and great jazz-infused music that does not require improvisation. Their colorful merging of sounds made this a nicely presented recital. The Crescent Duo, consisting of Kenneth White (clarinet) and Joanna Cowen White (flute), performed works commissioned by the Duo, including Taxoomy written by Rusty Banks, who was in the audience. Their pieces required much intricate interplay between the two instruments, and the ensemble and intonation were extremely tight. Katrina Phillips performed several works, including two by contemporary composer Carl Vollrath. The superb intonation and sensitive and eloquent collaboration between Ms. Phillips and pianist Nathan Brandwein was a delight. Baylor University clarinet professor Jun Qian presented an interesting collection of contemporary Chinese composers with astonishing extra-musical effects: birdcalls, sounds mimicking traditional Chinese percussion instruments, microtones, pentatonic scales and the utilization of Chinese folk melodies. Immediately following this concert, Slavko Kovacic performed a delightful world premier Joy for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 200 composed by Robert Kamplet. Kovacic displayed a gorgeous, lyrical tone that seemed to float throughout the hall. In the Instabili Theater, Chuck West also presented a “standout” performance that featured a performance of Richard Faith’s Sea Pieces. This work highlighted West’s beautiful singing tone, and in Dana Wilson’s Liquid Ebony, he brilliantly executed the sounds of a Middle Eastern-inspired style. Wrapping up the late morning recitals, clarinetist Kathleen Jones performed with flute and harp in a performance that featured works by composers Howard J. Buss and the harpist of the group, Paola Devoti. Ms. Jones produced a warm sound with a gentle vocal quality to it, all while maintaining musical direction and melodic line throughout her performance. The distinct timbres of the three instruments brought out unique and subtle overtones of the other instruments throughout the performance, but especially in the Tenebrae inde Lux for clarinet and harp.
Notable performances on Friday afternoon began with a delightful and audience-friendly program of light dance- and folk-inspired music by the Lisbon Clarinet Quartet. The concert had a “party” atmosphere, with the quartet entering the stage dancing and the use of a drum set. Simultaneously, and high above the other venues, were two wonderful back-to-back performances in the Instabili Theater. University of Alabama–Birmingham clarinet professor Denise Gainey presented a poignant, powerful and meditative performance of Lori Latiman’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly with soprano Kristine Hurst-Wajsczczuk. The duo delivered a refreshing performance that was not overdone, and Ms. Gainey’s beautiful tone complimented the clear, rich singing voice of Hurst-Wajsczczuk. Immediately following this concert was an outstanding performance of clarinet and saxophone works by Penn State clarinet professor Anthony Costa. The duo displayed fantastic ensemble, blend and tuning in their works, especially Pranayama, written by the saxophonist of the duo, David Stambler. Overall, the recital displayed this duo’s unique style, energy and personality. Down many cobblestone hills and steps in the Cittadella Theater, Christy Banks gave an energetic and eclectic recital comprised of recently composed works. One of the more unique works in the recital was Mexico City Blues Part Seven and featured electronics and video with recorded narration. Following this work was another unique piece by composer Rusty Banks, Three Thoughts for voice, clarinet & piano, with pianist Joan Allen and soprano Kristin Sims. Ms. Banks’ choice in works and performance displayed lively articulation, varied tone color and virtuosic passages, all delivered with confidence and ease. Immediately following this performance was a challenging and innovative program by Arizona State University clarinet professors Robert Spring and Joshua Gardner. The concert featured a world premiere work composed by Barry Moon: 3 Gifts for 2 clarinets, percussion, and computer with J. B. Smith on percussion. Moon’s piece presents the audience with a wholly integrated experience in which sonic effects control the visual video elements. Pitches are played through pickups and manipulated by the composer through a computer. Spring, Gardner, Smith and Moon gave an arresting performance, and there was recognizable precision to the sounds, timbres, visual components and rhythmic events, despite the manipulation and abstraction of these various elements. This is exactly the kind of fresh, cutting-edge, and engaging type of performance we hope to see at more ClarinetFest® conferences in the future.
Later in the afternoon, audiences were treated to two early romantic basset horn quintets, with Nicola Bulfone and Quartetto Fonè. Bulfone demonstrated impressive control throughout all registers of the basset horn, coming out of his shell in what seemed like idiomatic basset horn writing. The Scottish Clarinet Quartet’s recital in the Sala delle Volte’s generous undercroft acoustic featured Many Miles Away…, by composer Francine Trester. This work proved the real find in this young group’s program. In this well-prepared and well-crafted piece full of character and poetry, the group brilliantly brought to life each movement in texture and detail. Notable performances in the Metastasio Theater were delivered first by the Brillaner Duo with Shirley Brill on clarinet and Jonathan Aner on piano. Performing an arrangement of a Janáček sonata and the daunting Tema con Variazioni by Françaix, this duo demonstrated perfect ensemble, refined technique and colorful tone resulting in an emotional and impactful performance. Immediately following this performance was Gabor Varga in a recital of works by Hungarian composers, turning out to be one of the most memorable experiences of the day. With his rich, focused and colorful sound, Varga’s fluent technique and fine ensemble with pianist Kim Fabbri made this performance a gem. It is important to mention that Clarisonus No. 2 by prize-winning clarinetist/composer Theodor Burkali was a real discovery and is a must for anyone searching for solo clarinet works beyond the standard clarinet canon. Javier Llopis delivered an enchanting program, showcasing his virtuosity on B-flat and E-flat clarinets. In particular, the premiere of Martinez Gallaego’s Spanish Folk Variations on Eb clarinet is worth noting. Following this performance in the Instabili Theater, Trio Montage with Marguerite Levin on clarinet, treated the audience to works for clarinet, baritone and piano. Blend and rhythmic accuracy are strengths of this group, coupled with Ms. Levin’s beautiful pianissimo playing which was a perfect match to baritone Phillip Collister’s lush voice in Armando Bayolo’s Lullabies. The last of the performances this afternoon involved a unique performance by Gerrit Boeschoten on the tárogató, a single-reed woodwind instrument most often associated with Hungarian and Romanian folk music. Mr. Boeschoten demonstrated the rich tone color and possibilities of the instrument. As mentioned before, this type of concert is a wonderful addition to the conference and brings a cultural awareness of different mediums and styles of clarinet playing.
Friday night’s jazz concert has become a mainstay at ClarinetFest,® and participants have come to enjoy seeing multiple views on the clarinet performance spectrum. Eddie Daniels, Ron Odrich, Mauro Negri and Larry Linkin provided a stunning evening of jazz this night at the Lyrick Theater. Daniels opened the concert with jazz standards and some new charts specifically arranged for his performance in Assisi. As always, Daniel’s playing was seamless and fluid, much of what you would expect from this jazz legend. Following Daniel’s opening set, the audience demanded more, with several curtain calls. Ron Odrich, another jazz great and a close friend of Daniels, followed. The two joined forces and entertained the audience by trading solos with one another. Mauro Negri, with his unique style, showed the audience why he is one of the most popular and listened to jazz clarinetists in Europe. Larry Linkin, a show clarinetist, had the audience gasping at the sight of his performance outfit and then excitingly reacting to his spot-on renditions of Dixieland, swing jazz and country selections. The other members of the trio, Marco Micheli, bass; Paolo Birro, piano; Alfred Kramer, set combo, were equal to the task, with tasteful solos and close collaboration, providing the perfect backdrop for Daniels, Odrich, Negri and Linkin. The audience left the Lyrick Theater with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and fulfillment after hearing such legendary performances and performers.
As the Saturday morning sun shone its tawny rays on the St. Francis Basilica, another day at ClarinetFest® began with more outstanding events. The husband and wife team that comprises Duo Claripiano took the stage at the Instabili Theater and performed an exquisite concert of Slovenian and French composers. Both performers demonstrated great agility, sensitivity and flawless technique. Following this performance was Seunghee Lee’s concert featuring his arrangements for clarinet and piano, including the hauntingly beautiful third movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. These arrangements will be useful additions to pedagogical recital repertoire. Down the hill, another outstanding performance was taking place in the Cittadella Theater. Robert DiLutis performed mostly standard works, but did so with a gorgeous, focused tone and rock-solid technique. Mr. DiLutis was a workhorse performer at this conference, performing on several programs. Jonathan Cohler took the stage immediately following this performance and presented one work of note: an arrangement of Clara Schumann’s Drei Romanzen, Op. 22 — a refreshing shift from the usual arrangements and works of Robert Schumann. His overall performance was by turns bombastic and intimate, and served as a vivid showcase for Mr. Cohler’s formidable talents. Nicholas Cox, principal clarinetist of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, gave what was a long-delayed first performance of Arnold Bax’s early E major clarinet sonata, as well as Iain Hamilton’s The Wild Garden. Mr. Cox’s excellent performances were heightened by his informational talk about these two works. Another true “standout” performance by Jan Jakub Bokun and Jean-François Bescond occurred at the Metastasio Theater, with lively dance tunes, folk song-inspired works and arrangements by Paquito D’Rivera, Astor Piazzolla, Laszlo Kiraly and Benny Goodman. The duo showcased superb matching of timbres, pitch and articulation, with a wonderful freedom and sense of ease in their playing. Sergio Bosi’s recital of expressive and rhapsodic Italian gems was a perfect balance of lyricism and playfulness that delighted all in attendance at the Metastasio Theater.
Saturday morning recitals also featured unique repertoire choices, starting with Mauricio Murcia Bedoya, Jorge Andrés Vélez and Guillermo Alberto Marín in the Instabili Theater. These artists gave an inspired account of numerous Colombian dance etudes and duets. In the same vein, clarinetist Elton Katroshi presented a program of Albanian folk-inspired compositions. This morning also saw unique use of instrumentation with University of Montevallo clarinet professor Lori Ardovino, joined by trumpeter Josesph Ardovino and Alan Goldspiel on guitar. Their selections, all composed by Ms. Ardovino and Mr. Goldspiel, were clever and charming, and the blend of the trio in the world premiere work Turing Point, Sudden Influx was particularly impressive. Another unique instrumental combination was the Riverdale Ensemble, with Stephen Fox on clarinet and basset horn, joined by Ismene Weiss on violin and Ellen Meyer on piano, in the European premiere of Larysa Kuzmenko’s Polyniya for basset horn, violin, and piano. The final notable performance of the morning was by Anches Hantées Quartet who wowed the audience with highly engaging repertoire and a truly fantastic performance. Their playing was rhythmically exciting and displayed exceptional intonation and dynamic control. Both this quartet and their commission Saratoga Trails, Op. 57 by Richard Dubugnon deserve a wide audience following, and we hope to see more of this group at a future ClarinetFest®.
While the majority of events at ClarinetFest® involve performances, there are also a number of master classes, lectures, presentations and clinics that are offered and sometimes overlooked. This conference had a number of well-known performers teaching master classes: Karl Leister, Ricardo Morales, Eddie Daniels, Corrado Giuffredi, Robert Spring, Philippe Cuper, Rocco Parisi, Philippe Berrod, Jonathan Cohler, Kari Krikku and Eddie Vanoosthuyse. All master classes offered audience members insight into several performance issues, ranging from tone to technique to aesthetics and interpretation. When performers were not supplied for the artists, they made it an immediate “teaching moment” by asking for volunteers to perform and addressed larger playing issues to the general audience in a lecture format. Presentations such as William Powell’s Essiential Yoga for the Clarinetist, and Chuck West’s Reedmaking 101: Seven Minutes Toward Superior Reeds were, unfortunately, just two that were attended by ClarinetFest® reviewers, but it is important to note that a handful of others were given throughout the conference. These lectures are an important part of the scholarship and research side of ClarinetFest®, and we hope to see more, as well as more audience members, for these at future conferences.
Noteworthy Saturday afternoon recitals included an outstanding all-Stockhausen performance (Traumformel and Der klein Harlekin) by Roberta Gottardi on clarinet and basset horn. Her performance was extremely well-executed, displaying the technical, physical, and emotional aesthetic one would expect from Stockhausen’s works. South Dakota State University clarinet professor Michael Walsh performed the contemporary works Dreams Sonatina by Brian Balmages and Hexad by Paul Steinberg. Dreams Sonatina was a lovely work and well-played by Walsh and pianist Désirée Scuccuglia. Another notable performance was a concert by the International Clarinet Quartet, with its membership consisting of clarinetists from Argentina, Columbia, Peru and the United States. These artists performed a program of wonderful duos and quartets by Osvaldo Lichtenzveig and Kenny Berger. The innovative repertoire showcased the quartet members’ virtuosic agility and provided a platform for some impressive improvisations. In the Instabili Theater, Dimitri Bokolishvili, from the Republic of Georgia, performed with a sound so lyrical and a style so natural that his performance often appeared improvised. The Sonata for clarinet and piano by Vazha Azarashvili, a composer from the Republic of Georgia, featured a call and answer dialogue that built to more and more notes, resulting in a vigorous chatter of virtuosic clarinet sounds. Finishing off the afternoon recitals was Barbara Haney performing a program of bass clarinet works. Ms. Haney plays with a full and resonant tone, showing her confidence and command of the instrument in all registers and dynamics. Her dynamic contrast, phrase direction and attention to detail showcases her musicianship and dedication to the music she performs. Daniel Dorff’s work, Flowers of St. Francis, shows his love of the bass clarinet and his deft ability to paint scenery throughout the varied registers of the bass clarinet, each with its own distinctive timbre. Clarinetist Nuno Pinto performed an unaccompanied recital titled “Alone from Portugal to Italy,” and, despite the somewhat reticent title, this concert showcased Pinto’s extroverted brilliance. As this concert was set in Italy, Pinto chose to program two of the most important Italian works in this genre: Berio’s Sequenza IX and Clair by Donatoni. Pinto opened the concert with a wonderful solo piece, Vitral by Portuguese composer Clotilde Rosa which was written for him. This piece was well- written for the clarinet and displayed a great deal of register contrasts juxtaposed against long melodic lines, with fast fragments of smaller repeating musical cells. In the two works that followed, Pinto’s command of the instrument was absolutely spectacular. His flawless technique and musical artistry enabled these beautiful, yet challenging, pieces to capture the essence of a great unaccompanied concert.
Before the final evening concert in the Lyrick Theater on Saturday, I.C.A. President John Cipolla gave gifts of thanks to Piero Vincenti, Antonio Fraioli and Assisi Mayor Claudio Ricci on behalf of the Board and the I.C.A. Attendees were then fortunate to hear opening remarks by Mr. Ricci and a speech that spoke (via translator) of “the unity of nations” at ClarinetFest.® He went on to say that we, as clarinetists, can “look into the eyes of each other” and communicate without words, indicating that more than mere performances occurred at ClarinetFest® something this reviewer interprets as a larger humanity and experience of the human spirit. The concert itself had great variety, beginning with beautiful tone quality and performance by Quatuor Anches Hantées. Their opening pieces by Maurice Ravel included Ma Mère l’oye and Pavane der la belle au bois dormant. This quartet’s blend was truly exquisite, often sounding as one clarinet, playing with seamless connections among the four voices. Nuno Pinto and Enrico Maria Baroni performed Schumann’s Fantasiestücke and Bernstein’s Sonata beautifully. The two artists displayed wonderful playing and great contrast of styles between the two works. Paolo Ravaglia appeared on stage with his bass clarinet, accompanied by a set of speakers for the work Jacob TV-Pimpin for bass clarinet and boombox. This work featured a mixture of spoken dialogue and music, which might best be described as “clarinet rap or hip-hop.” William O. (Bill) Smith gave a special performance, highlighted with jazz idioms titled Assisi Improv for amplified clarinet. He received a standing ovation, with the audience offering their enormous respect for his impact in the clarinet world. Overall, the Saturday evening concert was a true inspiration to all in attendance and a stunning way to end the last full day of the conference.
Sunday is a shorter day for the conference, one of winding down, saying goodbye to old and new friends and preparing for travels back to our regular lives. However, there are always a handful of great concerts as well as a plethora of clarinet choir concerts to enjoy on the last day of ClarinetFest®, and this Sunday was no exception.
The Bill Smith & Paolo Ravaglia Jazz Trio treated those who descended the hills to the Cittadella Theater to a full house and a fantastic performance. The group put on a spectacular show, premiering Smith’s Assisi Suite, which included the artists’ use of “double” clarinets (one player performing on two clarinets at once) so that they could achieve the harmonic fullness and complexity of a clarinet quartet. This inspiring performance drove an enraptured audience to demand an encore from the group, in which Smith improvised a remarkable solo on the “double” clarinet, after which the audience gave them another standing ovation that lasted until well after they exited the stage. Immediately following this performance, Guy Yehuda gave a polished recital, including the world premiere of Gary Smart’s Prayer for solo clarinet, in which Yehuda demonstrated superb breath control that allowed for an intense pianissimo dynamic. He seemed to negotiate the more acrobatic passages with ease and his playing epitomized control and effortlessness. Up the hill from the Cittadella Theater were three completely different, yet noteworthy, performances in the Metastasio Theater. Trio Böhm presented a concert of works by Johann Simon Mayr for flute, clarinet and basset horn. The group had a warm, wonderful sound, with a fantastic blend. Their performance of Mayr’s bagatelles was charming and thoroughly engaging. Next, University of South Carolina clarinet professor Joseph Eller took the stage with soprano Tina Milhorn Stallard and pianist Lynn Kompass for a polished and electrifying performance of Ned Rorem’s Ariel. The ensemble was incredibly tight, with fantastic diction by Milhorn Stallard, as well as outstanding interpretations by all the artists. The final movement was particularly noteworthy and a dramatic and moving finale to this difficult yet rewarding work. Immediately following this performance, Eric Mandat took the stage to perform his own compositions for solo clarinet utilizing extended techniques. He exhibited excellent technique and a flawless execution of his difficult works, especially evident through his ease in shifting from harmonics and overtones to regular playing — much like a string player might achieve. The works exhibited very sparse textures through an ethereal, atmospheric aesthetic. The audience was drawn in and captivated by his control and musicality.
As mentioned before, Sundays are usually clarinet choir performance days at ClarinetFest®, and solid performances were given by many clarinet ensembles in attendance. The conference concluded with a collaborative effort of mammoth proportions: The U.S. and Italian Professor Clarinet Choir Concert. Organized by Robert Walzel and Piero Vincenti, it featured two separate concerts by groups of professors from the U.S. and Italy. The U.S. Professor Clarinet Choir performed an arrangement by Guido Six (Resphigi’s Memories of Ottorino) and New York Counterpoint by Steve Reich. The Italian Professor Clarinet Choir performed works by Giuseppe Verdi, Nino Rota and Henghel Gualdi. At the end, both choirs joined forces to perform Guido Six’s Ciao Italia, ti amiamo, written specifically for ClarinetFest® 2013. Beyond the wonderful playing and finesse of these ensembles, it was an amazing experience to join forces and make music with friends and colleagues around the world. Some people stated in communications after the conference that the U.S. and Italian Professor Clarinet Choir concert was possibly the highlight of the entire festival. It fostered an amazing amount of goodwill and opened a door of collegiality that could be a permanent fixture in relations with the I.C.A. and all international clarinet professors and professionals.
The work we do together as artists, teachers, scholars and clarinet product manufacturers, as well as the contributions that we make together, represent the very best of what the I.C.A. can be, and arguably should be. ClarinetFest® 2013 reminded us of the value of our work as artists, pedagogues, scholars and product manufacturers. We are fortunate and happy to be part of this large clarinet family.
ClarinetFest® 2013 Review Team:
Lori Ardovino, Christy Banks, Anthony Costa, Nicholas Cox, Elizabeth Crawford, James Gai, Stefanie Gardner, Jessica Lindsey, John Masserini, Matthew Nelson, Katrina Phillips, Timothy Phillips, William Powell, Jeremy Reynolds, Michael Walsh, John Warren, Guy Yehuda.
About the author: John Masserini is associate professor of clarinet and associate director for graduate studies at Northern Arizona University.