Thursday morning, section members of the Louisiana Philharmonic presented a recital showcasing their auxiliary specialties. Bass clarinetist John Reeks performed the premiere of William O. Smith’s LINES for Bass Clarinet. The seven movements provided quite an adventure through the world of extended techniques. Effects in the first movement alone included growls, singing through the horn, and abundant use of the flutter tongue. Surprisingly, this piece utilized two bass clarinets in different configurations (one conventional and the other separated in two pieces). The movements alternated on these new “instruments.” A mouthpiece was inserted into the bottom joint and a metal plunger added to the bell for the second movement, producing a brassy, almost trumpet-like sound. The second surprising use of the instrument called for the mouthpiece to be placed into the upper joint (without a neck). This configuration produced a haunting other-worldly sound, sometimes playful like the underwater sounds of dolphins. Overall, the piece was brilliantly performed by Mr. Reeks, but due to its highly experimental nature (plus the need for TWO bass clarinets) I doubt the piece will be performed very often in the future.
Next, LPO E-flat clarinetist Stephanie Thompson wowed us from her first entrance with a full-bodied, tonally rich sound on the E-flat. Dankner’s Concerto for E-Flat Clarinet provided a vehicle for Thompson’s beautiful tone, with sweeping romantic melodies exploiting the entire range of the instrument. A dramatic and difficult cadenza led to a fiery and caffeinated ending. Although only one movement, this concerto charmingly leads the listener through a full range of emotions and is a gem in the E-flat repertoire that I hope to hear more often!
Finally, LPO Principal Clarinetist Christopher Pell provided a musically mature interpretation of Weber’s Grand Duo. Despite his young age – he holds this position at the age of 22 – Pell demonstrated a thorough understanding of the score with all its interactions between the instruments. His sound blended (almost too well) with the piano and his intonation was especially appreciated in the slow second movement where the pitch in the clarion register tends to ride high. The long sweeping operatic lines that are Weber’s hallmark contrasted nicely with the technical sections in this performance, where Pell always took care to show musical intent within the technique. Kudos also to pianist Audrey Andrist for her flawless performance of this most difficult repertoire.
–Notes by Melissa Bowles Snavely
Melissa Bowles Snavely holds degrees in performance and music education from The Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins, Shenandoah Conservatory, and James Madison University. She currently teaches and performs in the Washington DC area.