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 Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2005-04-05 19:39

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


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.


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

First 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. First, 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.

Finally, 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 friend 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.

FINGERS. 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 from 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 first 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.


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.


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 find 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.


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 from 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

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2005-04-05 19:42

Holy S* Ken! How did you remember all of that?????

Did you video tape the sessions?


Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Adrian 
Date:   2005-04-05 20:14

It's difficult to add to Ken's summary, except to say that Ricardo also suggested to the young man playing the Mozart 2nd movement that there are places in the where one doesn't have to be a complete slave to the beat, and to think more like a singer. It loosened up his playing.

Also, Ricardo's student who is also the youngest Phd. candidate in the U.S. was there with her horn (a Signature), but couldn't be squeezed into the schedule. Maybe next year.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Terry Stibal 
Date:   2005-04-05 20:20

Now, if the Selmer firm would only release the Recital version of a bass clarinet...

leader of Houston's Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: larryb 
Date:   2005-04-05 20:28

Excellent report, Ken!

One thing - the Solo de Concours played by the first student was by Messager.

Also, should be noted that Morales modifies his Recital with what looked like a Bakun bell and a low F resonance key (available for extra charge from Selmer). Interestingly, I think I noticed a similar resonance key on Todd Levy's Signature, which I don't think is too common.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2005-04-05 21:18

larryb -

Thanks for the items I forgot to mention.

Ricardo rather embarrassed the Selmer people, and himself I guess, by showing up with a Backun bell. Someone asked him about it, and he gave some double-talk about how Backun is a personal friend and made it for him with his (Ricardo's) name engraved on it, and he used it not because it was better but because a friend made it.

I've read that he also uses a Backun barrel (or at least bought one), but he definitely had a Selmer barrel on his Recital.

Everyone who played a Recital had the low F tuning mechanism. The design of the Recital apparently makes the not lower than on other models. I, too, noticed the mechanism on Todd Levy's Signature and asked him about it. He said that Selmer will add it to any model on special order, and that Tomoji will also add it to any instrument. He said it liked Selmer's automatic design much better than the one on the Buffet Tosca, which you have to operate manually.

Ken Shaw

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Kevin 
Date:   2005-04-05 21:25

I recorded much of the master classes and the evening concert on a digital voice recorder. I don't know if it is appropiate or allowed for me to make highlights publicly available. If people want to hear parts of the classes and the concert, and if it is allowed for me to do so, then I'd very happily put them up.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2005-04-05 21:34

Revised posting:

Ricardo contacted me asking me if I had or could get a copy of the Recital.

I'm going to make him a CD of it.

Post Edited (2005-04-12 21:50)

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: RosewoodClarinet 
Date:   2005-04-05 22:10

I wonder what kind of wood of Backun bell Ricardo Morales plays on. Blackwood, Cocobolo, or Rosewood? Does anyone know??

First time to post here at the Clarinet BBoard......hello everyone!!


Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Mark Charette 2017
Date:   2005-04-05 22:29

Kevin wrote:

> I don't know if it is appropiate
> or allowed for me to make highlights publicly available.

Not without permission of both the artists and the sponsors of the event. David of all people should know that ...

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2005-04-05 22:41

It was recorded openly I would think - yes.

Otherwise it would say on the program "no recording allowed".

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2005-04-05 22:42

Ricardo plays Cocobolo but has many, many barrels and bells.

He pays full price for them all.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Mark Charette 2017
Date:   2005-04-05 23:51

DavidBlumberg wrote:

> It was recorded openly I would think - yes.
> Otherwise it would say on the program "no recording allowed".

Those words are not necessary. Until and unless permission is received from both the performers and from the sponsors no links can be permitted here. We don't have any rights to the performance.

You should know that performers under contract are often not allowed to be re corded under any circumstances other than those allowed in their contract.

Oftentime performers do not want recordings to be released in public if the recordings are not under their control.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Kevin 
Date:   2005-04-06 00:26

I understand, and will not make any of my recordings available to anybody.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2005-04-06 01:25

This past year there weren't any recordings of ClarFest nor FluteFest as everybody didn't want to go through the hassle of getting the permissions.

That to me is tragic.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2005-04-06 01:45

Dear Ken

Thanks for the excellent report and exposition of what went on at the Selmer Fair!!!

. I am a great fan of Selmer clarinets and have been happy with my Recital set for years. I also feel the sound of the Selmer clarinets to be very sensitive to nuance and shading. I too like a very resistant feel in terms of the bore and would hasten to add the small bore recital has an incredible ring on it's tone. However, as with any equipment their are pitfalls as such.

Manufacturers are very sensitive in relation to issues like barrell and bells. I have heard of alot of trouble with Buffet and Leblanc clarinet reps on these matters

David Dow

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: clarispark 
Date:   2005-04-06 13:53

You can't see me, but I'm drooling...I play a Selmer E-flat clarinet.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: BobD 
Date:   2005-04-06 14:25


Bob Draznik

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: msloss 
Date:   2005-04-06 17:06

Ken, that was me asking about the Backun bell. It was a snarky question, but it seemed a little ridiculous of the panelists to claim that these instruments practically play themselves, and then use something so obviously after-market. It was a corporate event so in all fairness they were their to give product endorsements, but a little reality check never hurts.

I played the model 67s they had there and I have to say I didn't find the instrument any more massive than its predecessor model 37. In fact, according to Selmer the bore hasn't been changed, and I would have to agree based on playing it. A very fine instrument, but from what I could tell all the meaningful improvements are in the ergonomics and mechanicals, which were the principal failing of the 37. Other than that, as has already been discussed on other threads, there wasn't much that needed to be improved. Why mess with what works.

Terry - if you want a Recital bass, just jam your mouthpiece in a knothole of an oak tree because that's about as massive as it would be...

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: larryb 
Date:   2005-04-12 18:38

Ken, Kevin (or anyone else):

do you know if the Jeanjean quartet that was played at Selmer Day is a transcription of the saxophone quartet? I can't seem to find an actual clarinet quartet listed by Jeanjean.

I see that Tom Ridenour lists his own transcription of a Jeanjean quartet.

It was beautiful.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2005-04-12 21:20

larryb -

The Jeanjean piece was for 4 Bb clarinets, so unless there was a lot of rearranging, it probably didn't bein as a sax quartet, at least for the usual combination of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone. On the other hand, as I noted, it had a very romantic sound that would have gone well on saxes. The piece was unfamiliar to me, and since I play very little sax, I don't know Jeanjean's sax quartet music.

Mark -

As you know, Guy Chadash had some negative comments about Backun bells at the symposium in Oldwick last Saturday. I'll be writing up my notes over the next few days.

Ken Shaw

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2005-04-12 21:49

Guy has an agenda of course. It would be paramount to any other manufacturer saying something negative about any other manufacturer.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: msloss 
Date:   2005-04-13 03:52

Looking forward to the notes! Actually Ken, I didn't know he made any comments about Backun at the symposium (I was rehearsing with Nuccio during that part of the session), but I do know his opinion regarding the bells in particular. When you cut through the posturing, the essence of what Guy asserts is that the amount of improvement you get from the Backun barrels and bells is out of proportion to the price paid. Who knows, Mr. Backun might have the same thing to say about Guy's clarinets.

In the end, I think Guy's message is pretty much the same as most other professionals, which is don't look at these toys as a cure-all for what ails your playing. The only thing that will get you there is good technique and good practice. If the toys help carry you a little bit further after you invest the effort, terrific. We've all heard classic recordings of (or studied with) Marcellus, Gigliotti, Bonade, Cahuzac, etc., and they have absolutely gorgeous tones and stunning technique, and they did it with what today would be considered pretty basic equipment.

David, they all have agendas, which would be to promote their products and services. None of these guys would come out and give of their time and expertise if they didn't have an axe to grind or something to gain from the exercise. At Selmer day they had a whole panel basically explaining one by one why Buffet clarinets were limiting them as musicians and how Selmer freed the beast, so to speak. I've heard several artists knock the Tosca now by saying "Wow, Buffet finally succeeded in making a Selmer". 'Tis the nature of the business. The competition and conflict is healthy and ends up improving the resources we have available to us.

Let us all bask in the diversity of instruments and toys available to us. It strips away every last excuse a player has and leaves him or her with the basics -- fundamentals, practice, listen, practice, study, practice, practice, practice, practice.

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2005-04-13 13:59

Mark -

Guy's comments were much more negative than that. He said that Backun bells took the "Buffet" quality out of the sound and were untrue to the nature and design of the instrument. More to come in my summary.

Ken Shaw

Reply To Message
 Re: Selmer Clarinet Day at Steinway Hall
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2005-04-14 14:31

Jessica Phillips has sent me a correction to the main posting:

Dear Ken,

Thank you for reviewing the Selmer Day with so much detail! I just
wanted to let you know that Jim Ognibene was not playing the Bass - due
to illness - it was Lino Gomez. Unfortunately we did not make the
appropriate announcement. Thanks for coming!

Best Regards,

Jessica Phillips

Reply To Message
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