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 Clarinet Day at Mannes
Author: Ken Shaw 
Date:   2003-01-18 22:24

Mannes sponsored a wonderful day of master classes and performances on January 5th, featuring Mark Nuccio, Charles Neidich and Kavid Krakauer. These are my impressions and some of the things I learned.

It's a Buffet world, all R-13s, with one Prestige R-13. No Opus/Concertos, no Signatures, no Rossis. No custom barrels (even Moennig or Chadash, as far as I could see). Ligatures were about 50% fabric, mostly Rovner with a few Vandoren or BG, and 50% metal, mostly plain or Bonade, with one Winslow and one oddball with a screw-down plate. About 20% used mouthpiece patches. Only one student used a neck strap. I don't think anyone used a double lip embouchure.

The master class students ranged in playing level from high intermediate through young professional. Each had good finger speed and good basic tone, but each had a long way to go. The differences between them and the coaches were a mixture of basics and advanced matters:

The common areas needing improvement were:
- embouchure
- voicing of the tone, using the tongue and oral cavity
- tonguing
- finger motion - economical, preparation, movement in advance, legato
- phrasing with the harmony
- knowing what else is going on, not just the solo part
- musical projection

MARK NUCCIO is the assistant principal in the New York Philharmonic. He is the ideal orchestral player: perfect control, perfect technique, perfect intonation, excellent musicianship and a warm, pleasant personality. He spoke about studying with Marcellus, and the perfection in small things that Marcellus taught. This carried over into his coaching, which was all on orchestral excerpts.

With each player, he began with the embouchure. He emphasized that it must be the same all the time. Even the best students had inconsistencies. They put the reed on the lower lip in many different places, had more or less mouthpiece in the mouth, held the instrument at varying horizontal and vertical angles, and, most of all, the strength in the lips wasn't sufficient. He said that the lips and tongue must be in the same position for every note, regardless of what else you're doing. You have to be like a jazz drummer, who lays down a rock-solid beat on the bass drum with one foot, while the other foot is playing with the cymbal and the two hands are doing two different things. The embouchure is like the bass drum - completely steady.

He also worked with each student on controlling the voicing of the tone. The position of the tongue and the oral cavity have a great effect on tone, and it's important to become aware of and control what you do. He gave excellent demonstrations of this and got the students to do some of it, and, at least become aware of it.


He began work on the Beethoven 6th by asking for a solo that's seldom on auditions: the short first movement solo with the two descending arpeggios. Although the student was quite a good player, he had great difficulty making each change perfectly in this technically simple passage. Nuccio demonstrated the importance of finger coordination and preparing the air and embouchure for each entrance and each interval. What makes this solo right is doing the basics perfectly - getting the air and embouchure set absolutely right and making the fingerwork perfectly smooth.

In the "standard audition" solo in the first movement, the opening is piano. There's an important contrast between loud and soft. The hardest part is making sure the third line B speaks (at the beginning of each ascending arpeggio near the end of the solo), since there's a big leap down to it each time. Once again, the key is keeping your embouchure and air pressure steady.

The second movement sequence is not several separate solos, but a single solo. This is impossible to learn using an excerpt book, or even the complete 1st clarinet part. You have to get the full score, to see how you and the strings trade phrases back and forth, and to know everything else that's going on.

The passage is an ascending sequence, and the phrases need to have that shape. However, phrase 2 is an answer to phrase 1 and must therefore be softer. That is, phrase #1 is mp, #2 is p, #3 is mf, and #4 is f. Each phrase ends with an appoggiatura and downward resolution. Remember your basic harmony. Play the non-harmonic appoggiaturas strong, relaxing off to each resolution. The staccato notes at the end must be like blowing the seeds off a dandelion -- a light puff, with each note played and allowed to expand and vanish like the cloud of dandelion seeds. Finally, you can't make too much of the final trill. Don't make it a blur -- this is a slow movement. Trill. at a moderate speed and hand off the phrase to the next player with the little ornament at the end.


From a master class many years ago, I can't remember with whom.

The important note in a trill is the note you're trilling from -- the lower one.

On a string instrument, the lower note sounds whenever the trilling finger is not on the string. The upper note sounds only when the finger is down, and immediately goes back to the lower note while the finger is making the rest of its motion.

On a wind instrument, it's the opposite. The lower note plays, then the finger rises, and all the time the finger is moving up and back down, the upper note is sounding. This unbalances the trill, giving too much of the upper note. Wind players must learn to keep the finger down most of the time during a trill.

This is something you hear all the time once it's called to your attention. I heard it from every student. Although none of the coaches mentioned it, their trills were perfectly balanced.


When you go into an audition, make sure your reed plays well at p and pp. Most people give a couple of loud blasts but don't check the pp response and thus mess up these little solos, which have to be extra light.

Everyone struggles with middle B in the first pattern (G#, G#, G#, B, A), since you're going from one register to another. The solution is to play the B using the top two trill keys. You have plenty of time to move your right index finger up, and the note is unaccented, so the lack of resonance doesn't matter. Back off a little on the volume, to make the short-tube quality less noticeable, and, anyway, the color matches the G# and the A better than a long-tube B will. Remember that even if the audition isn't behind a screen, few of the audition committee members will be clarinetists. All they're listening for is clean technique and even tone color.

CHARLES NEIDICH is principal in the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and a well-known performer on modern and early clarinet. He is also a superior pianist and constantly demonstrated things at the piano, showing the student how the clarinet and piano parts worked together.

Like Nuccio, Neidich worked hard on each player's embouchure. He also concentrated on posture. A very advanced student kept ducking her head, which choked off the air, Neidich constantly lifted the clarinet barrel, which produced a remarkable improvement in her tone.

I had not heard his description of the correct way to make an embouchure before, but it seemed intuitively right. The embouchure begins at the point of the jaw, beneath the ear. Think of a line of force beginning there and going along your jaw line to the point of your chin. Remember Leon Russianoff's advice that the embouchure is like the parts of a drum. The area between the lip and the point of the chin is like the drum head. The teeth are like the rim. The corners of the mouth control the tension of the drum head.


The PR was published as a solo with piano for the Paris Conservatoire annual competition. However, Debussy's papers show that he intended the orchestral accompaniment from the beginning.

The PR was finished and engraved in a great rush, and Durand, the publisher, made many mistakes in the solo and piano parts. It's essential to consult the orchestral score, which Debussy checked very carefully. Neidich has a photocopy of Debussy's manuscript. The most audible (and controversial) change is the final flourish, where it's beyond doubt that the low note should be D#, not D. (Marcellus said the same thing in a master class several years ago.)

Debussy was meticulous with his markings. You must follow them exactly, for example starting and ending crescendos just where they're marked.

Debussy made a revolution in harmony. Prior to him, harmonic tension was produced by a sequence of chords (e.g., I-IV-V7-I). Debussy moved from standard to modal harmony. He produced harmonic tension and relaxation by making a "carpet" of tonality, moving away (to dissonance) and returning. In the PR, listen carefully to the piano part, where this happens constantly. You need to find these points and shape your phrases around them, "pressing" on the dissonance and relaxing back into the consonance, as you would with an appoggiatura or other non-harmonic note and its resolution.

Debussy also revolutionized phrase structure. His phrases build to the last note, and crescendo throughout. The next phrase pulls back and starts to build again. Listen to La Mer, where this happens constantly. Also, he uses the common device of stating a short phrase (say, two measures), repeating it (two more measures), and then starting with the same pattern but expanding it to twice the length (four measures). This happens in the second set of phrases in the PR, with the long group moving at half speed.

The pianist is the soloist at the opening of the PR. Be sure to let the pianist finish the opening phrase. In fact, your opening phrase is a pickup to the next piano phrase. Therefore, don't make a big crescendo. You play the basic motive and then hand the phrase back to the pianist.

It's essential to know what's happening in the piano part. The piano is an equal, and often more-than-equal, partner. The revolutionary harmonic and phrase structure are unfamiliar enough, even today, that you have to be hyper-aware of them and demonstrate them to the audience. Although the Mannes faculty member accompanist was excellent, the change when Neidich sat down at the piano was magical. He demonstrated the harmonic devices, singing the solo part and then having the student play with him. In particular, he showed where Debussy changed the harmony in repeated phrases, which requires the soloist to play differently.

TECHNICAL DIGRESSION: The clarinet overtone series and voicing.

As we all know, the clarinet overblows on odd-numbered partials. Many players get a hesitation when moving from the chalumeau/fundamental/1st partial to the clarion/3rd partial (or from the 3rd to the 5th/altissimo). In the Debussy, for example, the student, who was an excellent player, had a noticeable "click" moving from Bb to C in his opening phrase. Charles Neidich broke away from the Debussy to do a fascinating and important presentation on voicing.

Finger the first space F, and go to the corresponding clarion C (on the second ledger line) without using the register key. This is not terribly difficult and is done by changing the space inside your mouth and moving your lower lip toward the shoulder of the reed, to find the spot that forces the reed to vibrate at the 3rd partial. Then play a slow descending scale down to middle B. The voicing and lip position become more critical as you go lower, and you probably won't get beyond F on the first attempt. With practice, you will be able to reach the B, as Neidich demonstrated.

This has great practical importance. The only way to make sure of a seamless transition from Bb to C in the Debussy is to learn to play the C without the register key, and then, in actual performance, set your mouth and lip for the 3rd partial.

Use the same method in the third movement of the Saint-Saens Sonata, where, in the second section, you must move seamlessly back and forth across the clarion/altissimo break.


Neidich also said that the clarinet does *not* naturally play sharp at ppp and flat at fff. It seems to do so because players make an embouchure mistake, relaxing to get more volume and squeezing to get softer, and also by changing the oral cavity. This is difficult to describe in words, but was very easy to hear.

An exercise to get out of this habit is to play G on top of the staff at mf and bend it down 1/4 step. Hold your embouchure and raise the pitch back up entirely by raising the back of your tongue into a "hee" vowel. (Actually, it's a combination of "hee" and "yeah!!")

When you can do this, then learn to drop your jaw as far as possible, holding the pitch up with the tongue/oral cavity position.

Then, start with your regular embouchure, drop your jaw a little (holding the pitch with the hee/yeah vowel) and then bring your jaw back up for "best tone."


This is a very fine piece, and a finger-buster. The interpretive problem, as Neidich pointed out, is that there is no identifiable "theme" to make variations on. The key is in the dedication, which is to Francix's nephew Olivier. The piece is held together, not by a theme, but by a three-note pattern, low, high, middle, corresponding to the syllables of the name Olivier (oh-liv-ier).

DAVID KRAKAUER is a well-known teacher and performer in classical and Klezmer music. He didn't play at all, and his coaching, while sometimes technical, was mostly about finding the mood of a piece and putting it over to the audience. His energy was overwhelming and exhausting.

He talked at length about Leon Russianoff's ideas on finger motion, some of which came from Bonade. First, you need to perfect slow, controlled finger motion for legato passages, so that there's no "thump" and yet no smear. Second, in tongued passages, you need to learn to finger the note before you play it. You learn this by starting dead slow, playing the first note, stopping it, moving your fingers and playing the next note. At fast tempos, you don't notice you're doing it, but the preparation makes the passage clean.


A student played the first movement, with little expression. He had the music stand as high as possible, in front of his face. Krakauer pushed it down and told him to play the opening from memory, even if he made a mistake. This made a noticeable improvement. The stand was no longer blocking the sound, and the barrier from the audience was removed.

Krakauer asked him what he thought about when he played the opening. The student said he didn't know. Krakauer asked him to think of something, and the student said a lullaby. "Fine then, play it like a lullaby, instead of just notes." The student did, sounding better. Krakauer went five rows into the audience and said "Play it to me out here." The student did, this time with much more expression.

Krakauer then took the student's idea and improvised on it. "The first part's a lullaby. OK. And maybe the next section is a dream, or even a nightmare. Play it to me that way." He went two rows deeper into the audience, constantly asking for more expression and projection. The student gradually got over his shyness and really played out.

Another student played the third movement, quite well, I thought. With this more advanced player, Krakauer worked on legato finger movement and correct intonation in the loud chalumeau first section and the soft clarion second section. With this student also, he moved the stand down and out of the way, went deep into the audience and called for musical personality to come out over the end of the stage, even while playing soft.


Although this has been recorded a couple of times, Krakauer was unfamiliar with it. He didn't like it much, but said that you can't always like what's given to you, and part of being a professional is to make even a mediocre piece effective. He worked on several phrases with the student, singing them and having the student sing them. Although the piece was atonal, he found traditional phrase shapes, which he had the student work on to "make music."


The student was a talented intermediate high school player, who played the notes but was inconsistent. Krakauer worked on smoothing out some technical passages and, as with the other students, on music projection to the audience.


High G (4th ledger line): Thumb/Register key, left index finger, right ring finger on the sliver key, right little finger on the Ab/Eb key.

High Ab (above 4th ledger line): T/R, right index finger, right little finger on the Ab/Eb key.

C#/D# trill (2nd ledger line above the staff): standard C# fingering, trill with throat Ab key.

Clarion F# using the right index finger and the sliver key: Several students laid the right ring finger across the sliver key in the same position as they would to cover the finger hole. This shaded the finger holes above and below, making the note quite flat. From master classes with Gino Cioffi and Tom Ridenour, be sure to press the sliver key as close as possible to the vertical rod (the one that hold the finger rings), to avoid flatness.


MARK NUCCIO played Tango Etude Number 6 by Astor Piazzola. This is an excellent piece, quite far from anything that could be danced to. His control and technical finish were impeccable, and he brought off a difficult number very effectively.

He next played Estudio Melodica, Op. 33 by Miguel Yuste. I was completely unfamiliar with this, and expected little given the slightly atonal opening. However, Nuccio quickly brought out the Spanish figuration, and the performance was a triumph. This is excellent music, with plenty of brilliant technical display, wonderfully played.

Hommage a R. Strauss, by Bela Kovacs, is a potpourri of clarinet solos from the music of Richard Strauss, written by Kovacs, who is one of the great clarinet virtuosos. Nuccio showed his orchestral clarinetist solo abilities, bring it off brilliantly.

By the way, he uses a neck strap. Students on the Clarinet board say from time to time that their band directors won't allow neck straps because it looks "unprofessional." The answer is that if the associate principal in the New York Philharmonic uses one, it's highly professional.

CHARLES NEIDICH played Mendelssohn's Sonata for Violin. His technique is astounding, and I think he simply transposed it. He took the finale, allegro vivace, at a tempo I though was alegrissimoso prestissimoso molto furioso e con fuoco conflagrissimo, double and triple tonguing throughout.

He then played a piece of his own, In Memoriam/Spirals, written on the death of his father (a well-known clarinetist). He said he had intended that it be played only at his father's memorial service, but he has decided to perform it publicly, though he doesn't do so often. The piece is highly emotional, in an atonal idiom with many advanced techniques (multiphonics, key clicks, subtones), and Neidich, and the audience, finished it in tears.

Neidich is well known for transcriptions of violin pyrotechnics, and he ended by playing two movements from Sarasate's Zapateado: Playera and Ziguenerweisen. These pieces are ferociously difficult for violin, full of extreme high notes (I think I heard G# above double high C), harmonics, left-hand pizzicatos and general mishegoss. For clarinet they are beyond belief. Neidich brought them off impressively. Like other virtuosos, he went for the maximum, even at the risk of dropped notes, and he dropped his share. His reed gave out, and he had to change, but an audience of clarinetists readily forgave him.

DAVID KRAKAUER played the solo movement "Abyss of the Birds" from Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time. This is a great virtuoso tour de force, and he brought it off brilliantly. There's nothing in the literature more difficult than bringing off the extreme crescendos, alternating with tiny, impossibly quick bird calls. A wonderful performance.

To conclude, he brought out two members of his group on accordion and string bass and played Klezmer. Here, his intensity and musical projection reached a climax. In the second row, where I sat, I had to stick my fingers in my ears from time to time.

The concert ended a memorable day, where everybody had fun and everybody learned a lot. I certainly did.

Best regards.

Ken Shaw

 RE: Clarinet Day at Mannes
Author: Tom Piercy 
Date:   2003-01-19 18:22

The high school student was one of my private students. I suggested he ask to play and I give him a public hearty congratulations!!! for having the chutzpah -- guts, nerve, in a good sense of the word -- to go to this event and play in this masterclass.

It was a positive learning and growing experience for all -- as it should be.

And a big thanks to Ken Shaw for his detailed report. Knowing the player/teachers and reading your report, I felt as if I was there hearing it all.

Tom Piercy

 RE: Clarinet Day at Mannes
Author: classifan 
Date:   2003-01-20 04:08

Did they discuss anything about buffet clarinet and equipment and why they like it so much?

 RE: Clarinet Day at Mannes
Author: Ken Shaw 
Date:   2003-01-20 18:43

classifan -

There were hardly any comments about technique, and none at all at all about equipment, except that Charles Neidich commented that his reed had died.

I think this was intentional. If a student had come in with a Bundy, someone might have said something, but, as has been noted many times here, good players sound good, and pretty much the same, whatever they're playing.

The attitude was that you play what works for you, and control of embouchure, voicing and musical understanding are what's important.

Best regards.

Ken Shaw

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