ClarinetFest® 2023 in Review
ClarinetFest® 2023 Day 3
by Charlotte MacDonald
Barbara Borowicz presented a performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Harlekin in a headlining concert on July 7th. Harlekin is a landmark composition in contemporary clarinet, shifting between seven sections that showcase the personalities of the titular harlequin. It is not only musically demanding, but incorporates dance, pantomime, and costuming. Shortly before the performance, the audience outside the Westminster Ballroom at the Westin Westminster murmured amongst themselves in hushed anticipation. The room had been totally darkened except for spotlights on the black velvet curtains and the stage floor, heightening the sense of anticipation. The audience fell silent as the spotlight began to grow and creep across the stage.
As the spotlight reached the far end of the stage, a clarinet bell peeked out from behind the curtain; following the clarinet, Borowicz stepped out, clad in a jumpsuit bedecked in red and green sequins. In the first section, The Dream Messenger, she spun across stage in circles, the mischievous character of her movements echoed by a repeated, circuitous pattern of winding altissimo figures. The spinning continued for impossibly long, assisted by near-imperceptible circular breathing and impeccable finger dexterity. The winding figures gradually shifted into the next section, The Playful Constructor, where the musical material slowed, accented by rhythmic stomps and lifts of the bell.
The change in musical material was accompanied by changes in facial expression that conveyed a range of emotions and characters, prompting laughs from the audience. The music settled into a more peaceful meditation in the next section, The Enamoured Lyric. Borowicz settled on her knees at the front of the stage, playing lower, grounded musical material that beautifully showcased her dark, round sound. In the next section, The Pedantic Teacher, the harlequin becomes frustrated by her attempts to get a phrase just right, outlining the phrase with her hands and stomping in frustration when the notes aren’t right. Her facial expressions, use of dramatic accents and vibrato, and wild choreography earned laughs from the audience, who may have found the harlequin’s struggles all too relatable.
The humorous character continued in the next section, The Roguish Joker. In her “struggle” to reach higher pitches, the harlequin blows water out of her keys, produces a swab, and adjusts her reed. In one particularly memorable moment, the harlequin plays with the bell between her legs, with a harsh flutter tongue of “flatulence”; the surprising noise and Borowicz’s dramatic facial expression prompted a roar of laughter from the audience. In the following section, The Passionate Dancer, the rhythmic stomping, and dancing from earlier sections returns. As before, the percussion of the feet interacted with the rhythmic line of the clarinet; however, in this section, the harlequin becomes distracted by her dancing until it totally takes over, with only a few clarinet pitches interspersed between the complex steps. Borowicz’s control was impeccable, allowing her to maintain a beautiful, controlled sound even while executing complex dance moves.
The final section, The Exalted Spinning Spirit, reintroduces the high, spinning figures from the beginning. The rapid motion gradually gave way to wide leaps punctuated by increasingly long pauses as Borowicz made her way to the edge of the stage. The performance ended with her gracefully leaning on the side of the stage, a peaceful smile on her face. The audience hesitated to break the magical pause at the end of the performance, but soon broke into resounding cheers and applause. Borowicz, who had remained perfectly in character throughout the entire 50-minute performance, broke character to receive the cheers and standing ovation, as the audience celebrated her captivating and inspiring performance.