It appears bass clarinet is the new black when it comes to new music. Stephan Vermeersch performed four very different yet very new and exciting works featuring the instrument during his shared recital at 4:00 p.m. in Shaver Theatre, Saturday. The first, Eric Honour’s Quirk for Bass Clarinet and Computer, made audiences want to get up and dance, wondering if DJs would soon begin lugging basses to their gigs, along with turntables and other electronica.
Vermeersch played along with a click track, executing slap tonguing passages and other extended techniques as the piece jived through a catchy prerecorded hip hop beat, along with a bevy of distortions and computer-generated sound effects. Audience members recognized the sound of a record scratching on the prerecorded track, whereas the distorted bass clarinet sound was reminiscent of the Mario Brothers Nintendo game circa 1992 or alien-esque sounds à la The X-Files. At other times, it was hard to tell which sounds were acoustic, which were distortions and which were prerecorded. Vermeersch was truly in his element, executing a flawless rendition.
When introducing the next two pieces, Vermeersch charmed the audience by divulging that the two men to be performing with him were his soul mates. He played Dan Becker’s Better Late for Two Bass Clarinets with Richard Nunemaker, which started out in perfect unison, gradually broke apart into a telegraphing, minimalist riff resembling a skipping record, and culminated in a warmhearted high five and hug between the two friends. Rocco Parisi joined Vermeersch for Marc Mellits’s bluesy Black for Two Bass Clarinets next.
Vermeersch ended with the U.S. premier of his own composition, WE for Bass Clarinet and 5 Desk Bells, published just this year. Flying through harmonics, slap tonguing and other extended techniques with circular breathing to keep up the momentum, Vermeersch tapped the five desk bells—each one a different color, like a child’s glockenspiel—with his left foot. A true test of coordination on top of the skill it took to simply play the bass clarinet the way Vermeersch did, WE held the audience captivated.
The second half of the recital showcased the other auxiliary instrument we all know and love, the E-flat (and D) clarinet. Jacques Merrer played three baroque transcriptions of works by Vivaldi, Albinoni and Johann Melchior Molter with a sweet sound as his faithful collaborator, Dianne Frazer, kept steady time on the harpsichord. The music was a welcome change from the newer, albeit beautiful, music that audience members had been enjoying the rest of the week up to that point. With performances of works hot off the presses and classics predating the clarinet, this recital proved to be an interesting look at the chronological bookends of music.
–Notes by Alaina Pritz
Alaina Pritz is a recent graduate from The University of Maryland and currently plays with The United State Air Force Band – Band of the Golden West.