ClarinetFest® 2015, Day 1 (Wednesday)

Note: Be sure to connect with the official ClarinetFest® 2015 Facebook page (Spanish), I.C.A. Facebook page (English), and Twitter account (@clarinetfest) for updates from the organizers. If you are attending ClarinetFest® 2015 in Madrid and would like to share your photos, you can submit them to and Be sure to include a caption for the photo as well as your name for photography credit.

ClarinetFest® 2015, Day 1:

I.C.A. Board Recital / Pedro Rubio Lecture Recital / Opening Gala Concert sponsored by Backun

by Sam Davies11247807_10153615010400921_340066679022435312_n

ClarinetFest® 2015 has begun in Madrid, Spain! After traveling from around the world, hundreds of clarinet professionals, students, amateurs, teachers and enthusiasts arrived at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque in the heart of Spain’s capital city.

In 1717, King Philip V of Spain commissioned the architect Pedro de Ribera to build the Conde Duque, a military barracks “that could house 600 guards and 400 horses.” For hundreds of years it served many purposes, and in the 1970s it was almost demolished, but it was luckily saved and gradually became a cultural icon of Madrid.

In 2005, a complete renovation plan was developed, and the renovation was completed in 2011. The complex now artfully combines modern with old: original stone pillars and brick courtyards interspersed with modern technological innovations. The center houses a museum, library, archives, and an open air summer movie theatre! And for a few days in 2015 — almost 300 years after its construction — instead of guards and horses, the Conde Duque is housing hundreds of clarinetists!

The opening ceremony on Wednesday, July 22 began with remarks from the director of the Conde Duque, followed by remarks from Justo Sanz, the president of the Spanish Clarinet Association. This took place in the delightfully futuristic Teatro of the Conde Duque, as will many of the following lectures and recitals; a beautiful rectangular hall, with offstage backlighting set to a beautifully cool blue color. The black darkness and the cool blue provided a welcome contrast with the pervasive outside heat, and the crystal clear bright blue of the sky striking the bright colors of the surrounding architecture.

As Sanz’s opening remarks were conducted in Spanish, and I shamefully have retained only a few fragments of Spanish from my studies too long ago, I wasn’t able to follow much. I did catch his last remark though: “Gracias a todos, y bienvenidos a Madrid!” Next came remarks from Maxine Ramey, the current president of the I.C.A. After some words of welcome, she thanked the staff of the Conde Duque, the artistic team, and the countless people and volunteers involved in the multi-year process of site planning and preparation for ClarinetFest 2015 in Madrid. She also gave thanks to the many sponsors that help make ClarinetFest possible each year.

Before last year’s ClarinetFest in Baton Rouge, LA, a tragedy struck a group of young clarinetists traveling to the conference. Two students passed away and two others were seriously injured. In her opening remarks, Ramey mentioned that Jake Hale, a survivor of the tragic accident, is in attendance at Madrid and will be competing in both the Young Artist Competition and the Orchestral Audition competition.

Immediately following the opening ceremony was the I.C.A. board recital. First up was Maxine Ramey performing Four Miniatures by Gernot Wolfgang (b. 1957) with guitarist Luis Millán. They played together beautifully, at times in opposing conversation, and sometimes melting together into unison. After that, Stephan Vermeersch performed Text by Hans Otte (1926-2007) on bass clarinet. In this interesting avant-garde work, Vermeersch had a conversation with himself, with one side portrayed by his stellar bass playing, the other through a series of broken spoken words and intriguing noises created with his voice. Next, Denise Gainey performed Domenico Mirco’s work Fantasia Sopra Motivi Dell’Opera La Sonnambula (ed. Diane Barger), accompanied by Dina Nedeltcheva on piano, a delightful installment in the clarinet’s wide-ranging operatic repertoire. Following this performance, John Cipolla performed Valentino Bucchi’s (1916-1976) Concerto per Clarinet Solo (version for bass clarinet by Sauro Berti, 2010), a captivating piece employing several bass clarinet avant-garde techniques, including some impressively pianissimo multiphonics. Caroline Hartig played Carlo Pedini’s (b. 1956) Vent’Anni Dopo per Clarinet Solo (2002), a whirlwind of a piece featuring technical arpeggios at breakneck speed and scales sprinting up to the top of the clarinet’s range. Concluding the program was the Trio Suite Colombiana (world premiere) by Mauricio Murcia Bedoya (b. 1976), performed by Tod Kerstetter, Michael Chester, and Stephan Vermeersch (standing in for Jeff Pelischek). The small chamber group played the Latin rhythms of the work together marvelously, providing a lovely conclusion to the diverse program of the opening board recital.

photo by Michael Dean
photo by Michael Dean

The rest of the first day was packed with many events, including masterclasses from Yehuda Gilad and Karl Leister, and many other recitals and lectures. One of my favorite events from the day on Wednesday was a lecture-recital given at 4:30 p.m. by Pedro Rubio on Antonio Romero and his clarinet system. The theme of the entire festival is the life, work, and music of Spanish clarinetist and composer Antonio Romero (1815-1886). Rubio gave a very informative lecture on the history of the Romero instrument, and thanked the Santos-Respaldiza family for their generosity in loaning the historic instrument for the lecture.

In 1851, in an attempt to solve some common clarinet difficulties and problems, Romero created his own clarinet system. He traveled to Paris and presented his design to Buffet, who was interested but was unable to implement the model due to costs and difficulties in production. Most notably, the system does not include the left hand throat-tone keys for G-sharp, A, and B-flat; instead, these notes are included in the right hand on the lower joint. Because of this, the open fingering of the clarinet is B-flat, instead of open G. Rubio demonstrated a brief Jeanjean-style exercise, moving rapidly from G-sharp to A and to B-flat and the opposite, with the greatest of ease compared to our typical left- hand struggles with those notes! “Piece of cake, it’s very easy!” Rubio exclaimed, graciously pausing after every minute or so to translate his lecture into English.

Another interesting feature of the Romero clarinet is its lowest pads for E, F, and F-sharp, which by default are open, much like a saxophone or flute. Similar to the oboe, it also includes several trill keys. If only Buffet had managed to popularize the model, think of the countless thousands of hours of practice that could have been saved! Because of its 19th-century tuning to A460, Rubio performed one short work on the Romero clarinet, Studio No. 2, without accompaniment so as not to unpleasantly clash with a modern piano. Then, he switched to his “normal” clarinets (as he called them) to perform a few more works written for and dedicated to Romero, including Souvenir a Don Antonio Romero by Hyacinthe Klosé (1808-1880) and Tres Variaciones by Ernesto Cavallini (1807-1874), accompanied by pianist Ana Benavides. Rubio played with a lovely sound and beautifully light and graceful articulation.

Outside the auditorium, a quick but torrential downpour drenched those still arriving for registration at the Conde Duque. The rain, Madrid’s natural air conditioner, offered tantalizing hints of cold air and cooler afternoon temperatures. However, the stored heat in the stones and bricks of the pavement quickly evaporated the rainwater, sending it straight back up into the clouds, and allowing the sun to continue its merciless and relentless assault on the city and the people. With temperatures approaching 100° F, the heat was oppressive but bearable. But we are lucky and grateful: the week before the conference, the high temperatures were routinely above 105° F!

Opening Gala Concert sponsored by Backun

After a full first day of recitals, lectures, and exhibits, it was finally time for the first major highlight of ClarinetFest, the evening Backun Gala concert. Held on the other side of the busy city in the Teatro Monumental, a 15-minute walk plus a 10-minute subway ride away, this was an incredible concert that will not be soon forgotten.

A wonderful and integral feature of Spanish culture is a different concept of time. It is quite common and even expected that nearly everyone in the city takes a siesta in the afternoon, before resuming their lives and work in the late afternoon or early evening. Most restaurants do not even open until 8 p.m., and it’s perfectly acceptable to arrive for dinner at 10 or 11 p.m. Consequently, the evening concert began at 10 p.m., presenting a slight challenge for some of the more jet-lagged travelers, but it didn’t faze the locals, who attended in force at the nearly packed concert hall.

A delightful moment occurred when, after the orchestra finished tuning, the door opened and applause began as the audience expected the conductor. In fact it was a stage hand who was bringing out the score, and instead of the applause dying down instantly, it exploded into a full force celebration combined with ear-splitting laughter from the entire audience, something that simply wouldn’t happen in the U.S.!

This hilarious glimpse of a different culture set the stage, literally, for a musical evening of the first order. The clarinet soloists were graciously assisted by the Joven Orquesta Nacional de Espana (National Youth Orchestra of Spain) under the direction of Lorenzo Viotti. The orchestra opened the concert with their own solo, Prelude de la Revoltosa by Rupert Chapí (1851-1909), a rousing fanfare that immediately showcased the brass before in turn featuring each section of this amazing orchestra. The first clarinet soloist was Justo Sanz, performing Fantasía Española, Op. 17 by Julián Bautista (1901-1961). This was a true fantasy in every meaning of the word. The piece strongly evoked the atmosphere of Spain, a dreamy and “swoopy” (my mother’s favorite musical adjective, most often applied to Brahms) work of music. As dreams often do, the music at times became agitated and quite difficult, showcasing the excellent technical abilities as well as the sweetly musical talents of Sanz. The orchestra, equally competent as soloists and accompanists, provided a continued youthful energy and rhythmic focus.

Next up was the Segundo Concerto by Óscar Navarro (b. 1981), performed by José Franch-Ballester. Franch-Ballester was in superb form tonight as he took the audience on a magnificent musical journey. The music conveyed every emotion, from heartbreakingly beautiful lyrical sections, to a joyously blazing-fast dance-like section, to a perhaps Corigliano-influenced section with some sky-high trills. This amazing piece also gave the orchestra some spectacular moments, most notably some earth-shattering brass and percussion ritornellos in which I thought the four outstanding horns might damage my eardrums (in a good way). Franch-Ballester’s flawless playing was equally matched by his stage presence and connection to the audience and orchestra, as he at times would turn around completely to communicate with the winds or brass behind him. His incredibly technical precision and gorgeous and heart-rending musicality, the excellent work from the orchestra and conductor, and the masterwork from Navarro combined to form one of the most amazing performances I have ever heard. The hall was filled with an electric energy during the entire work. Immediately following the climactic final note, the audience exploded into tumultuous and thunderous applause, even more than the stage hand had received earlier! The composer, Mr. Navarro, was in attendance, and came on stage to receive recognition for his beautiful piece.

During intermission, the audience quickly poured out of the theater like Spanish wine poured from a bottle into the bustling night street. The intermission was just long enough for many to grab a quick coffee or perhaps something stronger from any of the countless cafes or bars in the immediate area, all of which are open until late into the very early morning.

photo by Michael Dean

After the often fiery and passionate first half, the intermission cleared the scene for the final portion of the concert, during which the audience was sent back to the 19th-century world of Italian opera with Rossiniana by Michele Mangani (b. 1966), performed by Corrado Giuffredi. It was a charming piece featuring virtuosic soloist variations on all of Rossini’s most well known themes, while still including some of the great orchestral moments of those works as well. The end of the piece featured a rousing rendition of the William Tell Overture, featuring some stunningly virtuosic articulation from Giuffredi. As if the clarinet’s orchestral part for William Tell wasn’t difficult enough! The final piece on the program was Concertpiece for Two Clarinets, also by Michele Mangani, performed by Giuffredi and Franch-Ballester. The combined energy of the two soloists gave this piece an amusing atmosphere, as they often played directly facing each other and pointing their clarinets almost up to the ceiling. At one point, following an uplifting cadential moment, Giuffredi nodded solemnly and gave Franch-Ballester a powerful handshake, eliciting chuckles from the audience. This piece also featured some impressively powerful brassy moments from the orchestra, at times resembling movie music, in the best way possible. Another marvelous composer in attendance, Mangani came on stage to receive applause with the soloists.

As I was about to leave my seat and head back to the subway, a surprise encore followed, as Ricardo Morales walked on stage to wild applause, joining the two soloists. Once the applause had died down, Giuffredi amusingly explained that he “had to perform before Ricardo, because [he] couldn’t play after him.” The trio’s short encore, Guisganderie by Faustin and Maurice Jeanjean, served as the perfect conclusion to the evening, a virtuosic display of clarinet fireworks including prestissimo arpeggios and fast articulation of the highest order, rising in energy and speed to a rousing finale. Once more the audience erupted with wild applause.

Out in the streets, past midnight, the nightlife was alive and well, with people eating and drinking along every street. Many of the locals headed to such destinations as their night was yet young, but this jet lagged and exhausted American headed back to his hotel and hit the sack, after an unforgettable first day of ClarinetFest 2015 in 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *