Report by Sam Davies
The third evening concert took place on Friday, August 5, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lied Center of Kansas. Current ICA President Caroline Hartig greeted the audience and thanked D’Addario, a ClarinetFest® 2016 Gold Sponsor. D’Addario’s Artist Relations Specialist Tom Kmiecik thanked the University of Kansas and ICA board of directors for putting together a great ClarinetFest®. He also graciously recognized the D’Addario artists on the evening’s program and thanked the audience for attending.
“Concerto Night” featured nine D’Addario artists accompanied by the Kansas Sinfonietta under the direction of David Neely. First up was a stunning performance of Weber’s Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 74 with soloist Benjamin Lulich (also sponsored by Backun Musical Services). Lulich played with an effortless grace, flawless technique and charming character that fit the operatic style of Weber’s music. Especially remarkable was his control in the second movement, as he let the high notes melt away into the air.
Second on the program was Mozart’s “Parto, parto, ma tu, ben bio” from La Clemenza di Tito, K. 621, with Kirsten Gunlogson, mezzo-soprano, and Lee Livengood, clarinet (sponsored by D’Addario). This lovely piece fit nicely in the program, giving the audience a taste of the clarinet’s operatic character. Gunlogson sounded exquisite in the role of Sesto, as Livengood used Mozart’s obbligato clarinet writing to sing through his clarinet to create another elegant character on stage.
Spohr’s Concerto No. 4 for Clarinet in E minor, WoO 20 featured soloist Eddy Vanoosthuyse (sponsored by Buffet Crampon and Vandoren). This work, keeping in the spirit of the operatic theme of the first half of the concert, exhibited a wide range of musical characters, from the dark-and-stormy opening to the playful and lighthearted conversations between the clarinet and orchestra. Vanoosthuyse traversed the difficult solo part with ease, especially when venturing into the clarinet’s highest range.
After intermission, the second half of the concert took us forward in time to the 20th century. Jonathan Gunn (sponsored by Buffet Crampon and D’Addario) gave a wonderful performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. From the delicate first note to the famous final gliss, Gunn played with both tender sensitivity and spectacular technical control. Particularly impressive was his expert navigation of the cadenza, and his tasteful additions of jazzy glisses and bends in the second half of the concerto.
Ricardo Morales (sponsored by Backun Musical Services) was the soloist in Jonathan Leshnoff’s Clarinet Concerto “Nekudim.” This new work, written in 2015, opened with a stunningly beautiful plaintive and mournful sound from both the orchestra and Morales. The second movement exhibited a somewhat minimalistic style, with constantly driving machine-like energy again from both soloist and orchestra. Morales dashed through the solo passages, which pushed the technical possibilities of the clarinet to its limit, with his incredible articulation on full display. After the high-energy second movement, the piece gradually slowed down and returned to the opening theme, having come full circle.
The final piece was Four New Brothers for 4 Bass Clarinets and Orchestra by Arthur Gottschalk, commissioned by D’Addario and premiered at tonight’s concert. It featured soloists Sauro Berti (sponsored by Buffet Crampon, D’Addario, and Silverstein Works), Rocco Parisi (sponsored by D’Addario, Silverstein Works, Fratelli Patricola, Lomax Classic), Stephan Vermeersch (sponsored by D’Addario, Selmer Paris, and Flanders State of the Arts), and Richard Nunemaker. The orchestra began the piece by itself, sounding at times like a big band. Then the four soloists comically wandered on stage with their bass clarinets, drawing the first round of chuckles from the audience. From beginning to end, this piece was animated, energetic and raucous. The four soloists played their bass clarinets with remarkable virtuosity, each one taking short, idiomatic jazz solos and conversing with the orchestra as a quartet. An amusing slap tonguing interlude followed, before the climactic moments when all semblance of order evaporated as the “four new brothers” milled around the stage squealing and shrieking. Parisi cut short the shenanigans as he approached the conductor and made an inquisitive squawk, which drew deafening laughter from the audience. Quickly the four soloists and orchestra reconvened to play a rousing ending to this new piece.
What a well-programmed and well-performed concert! From the graceful and operatic sounds of the first half, to the jazzy, modern and sometimes absurd second half, each soloist played remarkably well and kept the audience on the edge of their seats for the entire concert.
Sam Davies is currently earning his DMA in clarinet performance at Michigan State University with Dr. Guy Yehuda. He is an active chamber musician and performer in new music ensembles and orchestras at MSU as well as all over Michigan. Sam has been reviewing concerts at ClarinetFest® since the summer of 2014.