Steve Williamson Visits the Chicago Vandoren Studio
(0:00-0:40) Steve Williamson Playing
Hi, my name’s Steve Williamson. I’m the Principal Clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and I have had a few other jobs before this one. I initially was the Principal Clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, as well as the Principal Clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. I joined the Chicago Philharmonic almost 6 years ago and it’s been an incredible journey. My music director’s Maestro Riccardo Muti, a man that I have an incredible respect for and has brought such great music making to the Chicago area, and obviously where we go on tour. It’s been an incredible experience. I feel very fortunate to be able to play some of the greatest repertoire for the clarinet in a world-class orchestra.
(1:29 - 1:47) Clarinet playing
When I first started to play the clarinet, I was very fortunate that the mouthpiece that I chose to begin my studies was a Vandoren 5RV Lyre. That mouthpiece worked so beautifully for me and it established, for me personally, a great concept of intonation, and an evenness of sound. I believe since it is a very closed-tipped facing, most people would use a Traditional box 5 strength and that’s what I’ve used ever since. So oddly enough, I’ve never changed. Maybe a 4 once in awhile, but most of the time, I play on a 5.
The mouthpieces that I’ve used have changed - and they’ve gone wider and wider in the tip facing. But, uniquely enough, I have grown very accustomed to the Traditional box strength 5 reed. I love it. I know exactly what I like to do to those reeds before I play them, and it’s a mutual relationship that I have with these reeds. They feel very good on my lip: the way I like to use the vibration and how it enables me to make the sound and use my air in a way that I can get the most out of my music making.
(3:17 - 3:50) Clarinet playing
One of the things that I love to work on, and I do it daily, is an exercise that allows me to have the most control over the clarinet that I possibly can. I think one of the things that most clarinetists are worried about are the beginnings of notes. Especially if you’re sitting there for a very long time, while the orchestra is playing, and you have to come in on something that’s very soft and delicate. Usually we’re very concerned about it having an unnecessary accent or something unexpected happens. You want to have as much control over the instrument as possible, so you don’t have to worry about these things so much any more, hopefully, and you can just enjoy making music.
What I like to do is start from the very lowest note on the clarinet. This is my “A” clarinet. I’m going to start on my low E and I’m going to go up chromatically. I start with a very soft cushion of air going the entire time and then with each note as I change, I give just an added pulse of air so that the reed begins to vibrate. Once I feel the vibration, there should be a sound. I feel that once you make a sound, a vibration on the clarinet, if you’re doing it properly it should carry. It’s a test of not only control over the instrument, but how centered your tone is and will it penetrate in the softest dynamics?
(5:30 - 6:50) Clarinet playing
It’s very tiring to do that! But what I’m hoping to achieve is obviously control in the very soft dynamic. Every single note on the clarinet has a different form of resistance. Even with the greatest setup you have, and the greatest instrument you can have and evenness of sound. Every single note has its own form of resistance and voicing. So if you can play the clarinet in its softest dynamic with control, it’s a given that at any other dynamic it should be much easier. I practice that every day so that if I have to come in on something very delicate, especially something in the high register, I already am playing the clarinet in a way where I have the voicing pre-set for the note.
(7:42 - End) Clarinet playing