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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000072.txt from 2005/04

From: "Shaw, Kenneth R." <krshaw@-----.com>
Subj: [kl] Selmer Day at Steinway Hall
Date: Tue, 05 Apr 2005 15:44:53 -0400

Selmer sponsored a clarinet day at Steinway Hall last Sunday.
Everything went smoothly, with a thoroughly professional presentation by
all.

WELCOME CONCERT

David Krakauer played his own, semi-improvised Synagogue Wail, full of
klezmer laughs, cries, quarter-tones and circular breathing. As always,
his musicianship was wonderful, and his intensity was overwhelming. I
had to stick my fingers in my ears in the small (110 seat) room.

Next came two movements of the Bouffil Trio in A minor, Op. 8 #2. For
those unfamiliar with him, Bouffil was an early classical composer who
is though to have written the first clarinet ensembles. They're lovely
music, and practically unknown. The players on the program were given
as Todd Levy, Jessica Phillips and Steve Williamson of the Met
orchestra, but Jessica couldn't do it. Her second string substitute was
Ricardo Morales. Needless to say, the performance was elegant and
perfect. The players responded to the small room by playing in a very
laid-back style.

The Poulenc Sonata for Two Clarinets was scheduled but skipped, probably
due to lack of time.

Next was the Jeanjean Quartet in F, with Ricardo, Jessica, Steve and
Todd. It's a very romantic, sweet piece that sounds a lot like Faure.
The group brought it off perfectly.

The concert ended with the Cavallini Grand Artistic Duet #2, which
everyone knows from the Lazarus Method, Part 3. Mozart it's not, and
you wouldn't program it anywhere except on a concert by and for
clarinetists, but here it was just right. Ricardo and Todd brought it
off with great panache.

MASTER CLASSES

Next came four short master class sessions. Unfortunately, there was no
piano in the room, so the players had to go it alone.

=46irst came a Morales student, who played a Solo de Concours by, I think,
Sauget, for David Krakauer. He was an advanced player, quite smooth
even at the very fast tempo he chose. He played seated, with his head
down in the music.

Krakauer quickly picked up on several problems. He had the player stand
and worked with him on cleaning up the small bits of technical slop.
Also, the piece fit the player well, but he needed to make it his own.
=46irst, this means memorizing it, so he always has it ready for
performance.

Tempo is a problem. He needs to play it a little slower than his
maximum. Find a groove, Krakauer said, and let it bubble along. Listen
to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, and even James
Brown. Each of them tells a story, with bigger phrases. They sing on
the instrument.

Also, this player needed more direction in his phrasing. This means
more than just that the phrases are well shaped. If it's only that,
it's like a circus tent lying on the ground. Now you need to put in the
poles and find the all-important sweep from each note and phrase to the
next. The three-dimensional architecture has to be there. Think of it
as yin and yang. Finally, when you do rubato, and take time for one
note, you have to give it back on the other notes, to keep a firm
overall tempo.

Think of the movie A Weekend at Bernie's. The characters have to haul
around a dead body every place they go. A note that doesn't end well,
Krakauer calls a Bernie. The first note of a phrase is often a Bernie,
particularly if you start it soft and push it at the end, giving it a
lumpy pear shape. Don't swell or let the tone spread at the end of a
note, or even drive all the way through it. Instead, taper it with the
breath and let it ring like a bell.

=46inally, remember that the clarinet is just a megaphone for your own
voice. You have to sing through it. It has nothing that isn't already
in you.

------------------------------------------------------

The second student studies with Krakauer at Mannes. He played first
movement of the Weber Concerto #1 for Todd Levy, with a smooth delivery
and a fine, ringing tone.

Todd began by noting that he led with his left shoulder, using it as an
expressive device. Unfortunately, he used that to substitute for
expression in his playing and variety in his airstream. This made the
phrasing inaudible. Todd said that this is a common problem. He
actually has some students hang a gallon jug half full of water from the
left shoulder, to become aware of the problem. Another way is to have a
=66riend put a hand on the left shoulder, to keep it quiet.

The student's clarinet was out of adjustment. Several keys clicked, and
a pad was buzzing. This is fatal in auditions. There are repair techs
who specialize in making instruments quiet for studio work, and you
can't afford to ignore the problem. This is particularly true now that
most auditions are held with the listeners behind a curtain. Any
mechanical noise sticks out.

Next, Todd talked about varying finger movement for fast and slow
passages. The student kept his right-hand fingers completely straight,
and only a fraction of an inch above the holes. This, and quick finger
movement, is fine in fast passages, but in slow ones, you need to have
your fingers curved and raise them well above the keys. You bring them
down slowly, even making a slight preparatory upward motion before
starting them down. This is important in the opening of the Weber,
which begins with several wide downward intervals: Bb-F#, C-F#, A-C.

These intervals must be connected smoothly, not only with the fingers,
but also with the breath and embouchure.

=46INGERS. Bring the fingers down slowly and perfectly together, so
there's no pop or hesitation when the low note speaks.

BREATH. You need to back off slightly on the air pressure at the end of
the high first note, so that the second note doesn't pop out. Also, the
second note is on a weak beat and must be a little softer.

EMBOUCHURE. You adjust your embouchure to be a little looser and set
your tongue and palate to voice the low note so that it is in tune, with
no wobble and the best tone.

Coordinating fingers, breath and embouchure is like flying a helicopter,
where you need to control main rotor speed, tail rotor speed, main rotor
tilt (forward and back, left and right) and tilt of the aircraft body.
To do this, you must balance foot two pedals, manage a stick that moves
=66rom side to side and backward and forward, and also twist the stick.
Once you learn to do it, it feels like a single movement, and the
helicopter flies exactly the way you want it.

In the same way, to produce a smooth legato, you must learn the
coordination of your fingers, breath and embouchure as a single process.

------------------------------------------------------

I didn't hear which school the third student attended, or whom he
studied with. He played for Ricardo Morales, and even though he was an
advanced player, he chose the slow movement of the Mozart Concerto.

Ricardo began with the same lesson Todd taught about finger movement.
In a slow tempo, you must move your fingers gently and slowly, to make
perfect connections. He worked with the player on the first two
intervals, C-F and F-A, to get the sound to flow from each note to the
next.

It's important to keep air in reserve. Don't stretch yourself to take
in air, but take a good breath at the beginning of the Mozart slow
movement, enough to play the first two phrases in a single breath (even
though you don't). This insures that you're completely comfortable.

Listen to Mozart's Piano Concerto #29, also in A major. Its slow
movement has the same feel as the Clarinet Concerto.

In the second section of the movement, the first phrase (A-F C A-F E G)
is a question, and the (the descending G7 arpeggio, echoed from the
=66irst movement) is the answer. They need to balance against one
another.

In the big skip from low G to altissimo D, stabilize the D by adding
your left little finger on the F/C key.

In the sextuplet ascending chromatic scale ending on C followed by the
trill on D, begin the trill on E but without holding the appoggiatura
and exactly in the speed of the sextuplets. If you speed up at all, do
so only slightly.

In the recap (after the eingang, or little cadenza), some people like to
play it triple piano. This is fine, but you must not lower the
intensity of the air. You have to be heard, and the energy has to be
there as you build up to a climax that's bigger than the first time
through, in both volume and emotional intensity.

In the second section of the recap (C-E-F-A C), keep the sound covered
as you ascend. The high C is a problematic note on the Boehm clarinet,
with a tendency to blare. Also, the phrase goes on after that. Don't
make it as if it was the only important note.

------------------------------------------------------

What was obvious from the master class was that the students, even
though they were very talented and some of the top players in their
conservatories, were not close to the level of the professional players.
None had the kind of projection and emotional communicativeness of the
pros. Equally important, each of them had tiny technical problems,
which took up their attention and made it impossible for them to give
their whole attention to making music.

INSTRUMENTS

Selmer brought their new models. While none of the pros played the
Artys, at least one of them played each of the other models. Ricardo
Morales plays Recitals, as does Jessica Phillips. Dominique Vidal plays
a St. Louis. David Krakauer plays an Odysee. The others play
Signatures.

I handled each of the models and noticed that the Odysee is a bit
smaller in diameter than the other models, rather like the original
Buffet R-13 or the Vintage.

Selmer is making a Recital Eb clarinet. It felt very good. The large
diameter is less bothersome (for me) than with the larger instruments.

Selmer also brought the new Model 65 (low Eb) and 67 (low C) bass
clarinets. Jim Ognibene plays one and sounds wonderful. I handled both
instruments, but didn't bring a mouthpiece. Unlike earlier Selmers,
they feel enormous, but the key action is incredibly light. They come
with two necks, one the traditional shape that puts the mouthpiece
straight into the mouth, and one more curved to give a soprano clarinet
position.

Many people were trying the instruments. Of course, no instrument makes
everyone sound good. People seemed happy, though there were some
unpleasant noises coming from the intermediate players on the bass
clarinets.

ROUND TABLE

The professional players spoke about their conversion to Selmer. The
Recital players all praised the large body and small bore, which made
the tone hole chimneys longer, giving a deeper tone. The Signature
players said the same about the raised tone holes on that model.
Ricardo said the smaller bore of the Recital gave him more to play
against and produced a bigger sound. David spoke of his longtime
loyalty to Buffet and implied that the Odysee give him a Buffet feel
with a more even scale and better tuning.

The Signature players compared the instrument with Buffet, saying that
Buffet was more flexible in tone and tuning by varying the embouchure,
tongue and soft palate position, but the uneven tuning forced them to
divert their attention to that instead of the music. All the Selmers,
and the Signature in particular, were in tune with an even scale, and
once you got used to keeping your embouchure steady, you could make well
controlled variations in tone with air pressure.

The Selmer representative said what we all know, that due to
"overwhelming demand," the St. Louis model will be produced indefinitely
rather than being limited to a run of 100.

A problem was that the players were there to promote Selmer and couldn't
even hint anything negative. I wondered about how consistent the
instruments are and asked Ricardo how many Recitals he had to try to
=66ind a good instrument for a student. He didn't talk about problems
directly, but said he would try as many instruments as necessary to find
one with great intonation, at least implying that there are
manufacturing inconsistencies.

EVENING CONCERT

The concert was in the two-storey domed entrance hall of the Steinway
building. There was, of course, a 9-foot Model D grand, played with
great (and sometimes overwhelming) panache by Craig Ketter.

The festivities began with a dazzling performance by Ricardo Morales of
Bassi's Concert Fantasy on Themes from Rigoletto, which most people know
=66rom the back of the Lazarus Method. Once more, a piece mainly for
clarinetists, but perfect for this audience. In this large, resonant
room, Ricardo adjusted his playing to fit. Here, he had the orchestral
player's resonance and projection. His operatic experience was also
obvious, and he played each melody as the singers on the Met stage would
perform. He seems to me to be playing noticeably better now than even
his incredible level in prior years. He had total assurance and
connection with the audience.

Jessica Phillips played Schmidt's Andantino, with a lovely tone and
professional manner.

David Krakauer played a klezmer medley with accordionist Will
Holshouser. As before, it was at once sweet, funny, sad, and
overwhelmingly fast and loud. Stanley Drucker was there and gave him a
standing ovation and a hug.

Todd Levy played the Weber Concertino with great panache. He left out
the repeats, but the concert was getting quite long. He drew tears in
the opening and tossed off the final section at a furious pace but under
complete control.

Steve Williamson played the Poulenc Sonata with nice French wit, making
the ferociously nasty bits sound easy.

Ricardo Morales and Jessica Phillips played Ponchielli's Il Convegno,
which is enormous fun. Jessica is an excellent player, with great
command, but Ricardo frankly blew her away. The fancy stuff lies well
under the fingers, but coordination of the two parts isn't easy at the
supersonic speed it needs to go, and they got it perfectly. However, I
kept wishing that Stanley would stand up and do it with Ricardo.

Dominique Vidal, a prize-winner at the Paris Conservatory, was brought
over by Selmer. He played Kubo's Polyedre, which was a short modern
piece with multiphonics, flutter tonguing, circular breathing and other
special techniques. It was pleasant enough, and Vidal played very well.

The concert ended with Paquito D'Rivera's Selections from Aires
Tropicales. It was originally for woodwind quintet, but had been
arranged for five clarinets, with Jessica Phillips on Eb, Ricardo
Morales, Steve Williamson and Todd Levy on Bb and Jim Ognibene on bass.
It was a great ending, with infectious dance tunes and musical jokes,
including foot-stamping. Jim Ognibene stole the show on bass.

Ken Shaw

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