Report by Lisa Kachouee
Vandoren, Gold Sponsor of ClarinetFest 2016, programmed an eclectic recital featuring Elodie Roudet, Michael Lowenstern and Philippe Cuper in Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Friday August 5 at 1:30 p.m. French clarinetist Elodie Roudet – a recent graduate of the Paris Conservatory, member of Duo Onyx, and teacher at the Conservatoire of the 12th arrondissement in Paris – opened the recital with a youthful, nuanced performance of Poulenc’s Sonata. Occasional use of vibrato at delicate moments in the work brought an authentic French lightness to her interpretation. Roudet’s second selection was Franco Donatoni’s Clair, No. 1 for unaccompanied clarinet. A tour de force, Roudet’s performance demonstrated the full power of her sound and her technical prowess through extremes in range, dynamics and texture. Her final selection, Prayer from “Jewish Life” by Ernest Bloch, contrasted the Donatoni’s aggressiveness with solemn, plaintive melodic material. Roudet’s compelling set yielded an enthusiastic ovation from the large crowd.
Michael Lowenstern followed, lightening the tone of the recital with his charismatic delivery of program notes and his unique stylistic fusion of art music, jazz, and popular idioms. He began with his composition 1985, a title referring to the year he graduated high school. As a comical parting gift, his friends created a tape of interviews with fellow students. In 1999 Lowenstern composed a piece for bass clarinet and fixed media featuring snippets from the interviews. Questions such as “What do you think of Michael Lowenstern?” were answered in various, largely pejorative ways such as “I don’t like him,” “He’s a geek,” and “Who is that?” The audience laughed at the amusing answers and lauded Lowenstern with cheers for his mastery of the bass clarinet.
Lowenstern proceeded with King Friday, a composition for bass clarinet and fixed media he wrote after watching an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood wherein Richard Stoltzman was a guest. In the episode, Stoltzman and Rogers pass through a music store with a display of instruments in the clarinet family. Stoltzman’s remarks on the bass clarinet Lowenstern found to be dismissive of the instrument. He composed King Friday – in reference to the leader of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe – to honor the bass clarinet as an unlikely hero. The final selection of his set, a solo adaptation of Gershwin’s Summertime, Lowenstern first performed in Chicago at ClarinetFest 1994. Influenced and inspired by the vocal techniques of Bobby McFerrin, Lowenstern challenged himself to expand the traditional capabilities of a monophonic instrument. Using multiphonics, a slap-tongued bass line and timbral effects, he delivered a soulful rendition of the traditional tune artfully decorated and self-accompanied.
Celebrated clarinetist Philippe Cuper followed with a pair of contrasting pieces by French composers. He began with his own adaption of a Jean Francaix Sonatine originally written for trumpet and piano. Characteristic of Francaix’s music, this work was buoyant, charming and sprightly. It highlighted Cuper’s effortless rapid articulation and the beauty of his refined playing style. In an interview following the recital, Cuper indicated that he intends to publish his adaptation of the Sonatine, pending approval from the Francaix family and original publisher. Cuper and Francaix were close friends and colleagues. In deference to their relationship, Francaix’s son recently allowed Cuper to premiere the adaptation.
The next selection, Alexandre Rydin’s L’Irlandaise for clarinet, bass clarinet, and piano, included David Gould on bass clarinet. Cuper’s fourth Rydin commission, the piece began with a sparse, modernist A section (reminiscent of Webern) that gave way to a brighter, tuneful and rhythmic B section. Both clarinetists displayed their virtuosity and musical conviction in a well-received performance. Rydin ran to the stage at the conclusion of the performance, seemingly overcome with enthusiasm and appreciation. He hugged all three performers and acknowledge the audience for their exuberant support.
The concert finale consisted of two arrangements for the Vandoren Clarinet Ensemble. Renowned artists from around the world – Jonathan Cohler and Eugene Mondie to name a few – joined Roudet, Lowenstern, Cuper, and Gould in Vandoren T-shirts to form an 18-piece clarinet choir. Displaying the depth and breadth of the Vandoren Artist roster, these superlative musicians delighted the audience with an arrangement by Kermit Peters of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 featuring four bass, two alto, and twelve B-flat clarinets. The ensemble concluded with a rousing and humorous Lowenstern arrangement of the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars hit song “Uptown Funk.”
Dr. Lisa Kachouee is on faculty at Oklahoma City University, teaches with El Sistema Oklahoma, and is a member of the clarinet and percussion ensemble Duo Rodinia. In addition to recent solo and duo concert tours, she made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2014 and has performed with orchestras throughout the United States.