The program opens with Mr. Sanders’ performance of Solo de Concours by Andre Messager, one of the undeniable cornerstones of the showcase clarinet repertoire. This piece has so much bundled within just a few minutes: the exuberant opening, the silky smooth pianissimo arpeggios, the lightning quick ending. Mr. Sanders uses a blisteringly fast double tongue to great effect for the final ascending articulated run.
Mr. Heinick, the pianist and composer of Kanoa, says, “You don’t usually hear much from us at these events, and on behalf of the pianists, let me just say how outnumbered we feel!” The opening uses satisfyingly eerie extended techniques including multiphonics, prepared piano string scraping, and timbral trills. After a seemingly timeless opening, suddenly a strong and constant rhythm emerges. During a piano solo interlude, Mr. Sanders takes a breather before playing what I can truthfully say was among the fastest notes I’ve ever heard on the clarinet, matched only by the Corigliano Concerto. A highlight of the piece is when Mr. Heinick brushes the piano strings, and imitating the sounds of a Hawaiian ukulele.
Mr. Sanders’ final piece was Adagio e Tarantella by Cavallini. The Adagio was heartfelt and mournful, and the Tarantella was charming with more notes than you can shake a stick at, and every single one in its right place. There’s not much more to be said about such an excellent performance!
Next, Mr. Cohler and Ms. Vitkauskaite, piano, presented a program of Latin and jazzy dance music. Premiered at ClarinetFest in Mexico City in 1995, Zarabandeo by Arturo Márquez is a work whose title is a made up word based on ‘sarabanda’, an ancient dance form, merged with aspects of Cuban danzón. Mr. Cohler’s musicality, commanding control of dynamics, and a touch of vibrato create an evocative Latin landscape in this work.
Next was Deep Ellum Nights: Three Sketches by Simon Sargon, a piece written for Mr. Cohler and premiered at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts. The piece is inspired by the Deep Ellum area in Dallas, a neighborhood much like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The first movement, Dark and Smoky, showcased Mr. Cohler’s sound, which is indeed dark and smoky, heavy with vibrato and lots of sleek smears.
The second movement, Quiet and Easy, is, in Mr. Cohler’s own words, a “slow drag blues.” The opening sounded like Gershwin, but suddenly wild trills screamed up and down the instrument. During a climactic smear Mr. Cohler threw his head back and lifted his clarinet straight out, like a Mahler Schalltrichter. The final movement was Tempo di Rag. Before the piece began, Mr. Cohler explained “I’ll have to switch to A. Hopefully it won’t be too cold!” No need to worry, Mr. Cohler! This final movement was a bit more lighthearted, and featured a lovely question-answer dialogue between the clarinet and piano.
The final work was Invitación al Danzón, by Paquito D’Rivera. This is based on the same Cuban danzón from Zarabandeo. Originally a flute concerto, then a trio for clarinet, cello and piano, D’Rivera recently created a version for clarinet and piano specifically for Mr. Cohler. The duo has recorded the piece recently, but this is the first public performance of the piece in its new form. Before he begins, Mr. Cohler said “I hope we get through it. He doesn’t make it easy for the clarinet!” I don’t think anyone in the audience had any worries about that. It soon became clear that D’Rivera had indeed made it quite difficult for the clarinet, but Mr. Cohler blazed through in a virtuosic display of technical fireworks, and made it appear effortless.
–Notes by Sam Davies
Sam Davies recently completed his first year of DMA study with Dr. Guy Yehuda at Michigan State University. At MSU Davies can be heard performing with the Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, chamber ensembles, and new student compositions.