French Culture and Clarinet

with David Gould by Jenny Maclay

Jenny Maclay:  You studied abroad in France at the Versailles Conservatoire.  How did France’s cultural offerings influence your musical studies?

David Gould:  Having lived in New York first and then going to France, I ended up going to so many more museums than I had before and saw so much history in Paris. In French culture, everybody goes to hear lots of concerts. I felt like I was at a concert or playing a concert a few times every week. I probably played something every two or three weeks – a sonata, a movement of something, a chamber piece, an orchestra piece, clarinet ensemble – there were just a lot of opportunities there, which is just part of the culture there. Also, being able to see so much artwork and history is so easy there. We have history in the United States, but France’s history dates back hundreds of years before America’s.

JM:  What advice do you have for musicians who wish to study abroad?

DG:  Do it!  Don’t be afraid – it changed my life.  I learned a lot in the states, but over there, it opened my eyes. On Facebook, I click on names of friends from France who I haven’t seen in a while. The next thing you know, you have friends and contacts all over – not just from one country. The best advice is definitely do it!  Don’t be afraid, and don’t doubt yourself. It might be difficult at first, but it will change your life. Just the chance to live in another culture, to learn another language, to meet different people, to see how things get done in different places. Even the way auditions are held over there – you start with a solo.  They want to hear you the artist, not you the note-getter.  It’s different – I can’t say that one way is better than the other.

JM:  Why did you make the decision to further your clarinet studies in France rather than America?

DG:  I did my undergraduate studies at Juilliard, and in my sophomore year, my clarinet teacher said I should go study with Jacques Lancelot. I went and spent a month in the south of France in a tiny town, and I had a lesson every other day. I would be practicing the clarinet eight or nine hours a day. There were other clarinetists, so we were playing duets, quartets, and ensemble pieces.  I liked the way that everybody sounded – it was the way I thought it should be played.   had a great time, and by the time I finished and came back, I met some people going into my senior year at Juilliard who mentioned a scholarship – the Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship from the Fondation des Etats-Unis. They told me since I liked France so much that I should definitely try for the scholarship, and two of them had done the grant already. One was a composer, and one was a flute player. The two of them helped me write my proposal, and I got the scholarship. The funny thing about this was that I had auditioned for the Paris Conservatory, but I didn’t get in. When I got off the plane coming home, I started to realize what had happened. It was audition time, and I hadn’t re-auditioned at Juilliard or any other schools. When I got home and opened my mailbox, I found out that I had gotten the scholarship, so I was able to go to France and study anyways.  So I went to France for one year and liked it so much, and the one-year scholarship became three years where I was playing in a small orchestra teaching and running the cultural program at the place I was living. It was amazing. I learned all sorts of things I wouldn’t have been able to learn if I had gotten my master’s degree at Juilliard. I wouldn’t have learned another culture, I wouldn’t have learned another style of playing, and I wouldn’t have learned how to organize concerts, and I made a lot of good friends that I have now in my life.

JM:  What are the differences between classical music in America and France?

DG:  I was living in student housing in France, with about fifty percent Americans and fifty percent miscellaneous international students. One day in the spring, I was practicing with my window open.  I was practicing the Mozart concerto slowly. When I took a break and went downstairs to check my mail, there was a German guy who studied physics, who asked if that was me practicing the Mozart clarinet concerto. I was stunned that a physics student would know that, and then he asked me why I was practicing it so slowly!  I think there’s just a different type of education there, and classical music isn’t thought of as “old” music. Everybody gets a taste of it.  At concerts in France, I feel like you can find younger people in the audience. I think that the culture is a little more accepting of classical music. That being said, the average person in France is also more into jazz, too.  

JM:  What are the differences in clarinet equipment (reeds, ligatures, mouthpieces, etc.) between France and America?

DG:  It used to be that in France, they followed one or two big people, and that’s what you end up seeing people playing on. There are some people that play closed mouthpieces, but I think the average there is a “medium” mouthpiece.  I would say the B40 and B40 Lyre are popular, but then again the 5RV Lyre is also very popular.  There are all these misconceptions that in Europe they play sharp, and they probably play around A=442 or 443, which is higher than us trying to tune at A=440, but the average American group does not play at A=440 either, unless they are super vigilant.  In general, people in France play on slightly lighter reeds. I don’t think they sell many 5’s or 5+’s, and 4.5’s are rare.

JM:  Who are your musical inspirations?

DG:  A lot of the inspiration is the music itself.  ou’re sitting in the middle of an orchestra, and you’re playing your part and floating in this ocean of sound, with the strings in front of you, the woodwinds next to you, the brass behind you – there’s a lot going on. The ups and downs, the ebbs and flows - if you really listen and let your ears hear what’s around you, music can be hair-raising. Think of the finales to a Mahler symphony and how much power there is. Think of the storm scene in Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. Also, in chamber groups, to play something like the slow movement of the Mozart quintet, and just be able to play so softly and be delicate.  Stepping down to the human level, all these guys like Louis Cahuzac, my teacher David Weber, Philippe Cuper, Michel Arrignon, all the teachers that I’ve had – Stanley Drucker, Hans Rudolph Stalder, Guy Deplus, it’s really the greatest of the great that are inspirational for what they do.  My colleagues are also inspirational – Jon Manasse, Pasqual Martinez, Ricardo Morales – everybody has their own thing to offer. I guess the biggest musical inspiration is the composers and what they’ve written – if you really stop and listen to the music, it’s incredible.  

JM:  What kind of music do you enjoying playing the most?

DG:  It’s all special to me. I got to play the Gran Partita with Philippe Cuper, and it was nice to play with my teacher.  Playing Romeo and Juliet with the American Ballet Theater – I’ve played it probably close to 100 times, but Prokofiev wrote such incredible music!  I got to play a Boulez piece with the New York Philharmonic this past June, and it was just incredible to me not just because of the music, but also because I was playing with the Philharmonic. I can’t believe I’m sitting there with all the amazing musicians playing this incredibly hard music – there are always memories of these performances.  The first big piece I got to play was with the French National Orchestra – I got to play Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony.  It was a concert where the orchestra loved the conductor so much, and the music was so incredibly powerful, strong, and emotional. I played second clarinet on the Berg violin concerto with Gil Shaham – that was amazing. I can’t pick one – it’s all incredible!  Playing West Side Story on Broadway was also very powerful because it came at a point in my life when I was asking myself a lot of serious questions, and I was unsure about my future.  When I got this opportunity to play, it led to a new sense of confidence and many more opportunities. I think if you’re paying attention, musicians can find pivotal moments in your life as a performer or educator. I savor every performing opportunity, especially with the climate of classical music today; you never know when the next musical experience might be your last. It’s really incredible to be able to add your take to what somebody wrote yesterday or three hundred years ago – it’s stressful, but it’s rewarding.

JM:  Do you have any final words of wisdom?

DG:  When I was in high school, my mother gave me a book about Leonard Bernstein.  Inside, she wrote, “Congratulations!  You never let anybody take away your dream.”  It was profound – there are plenty of roadblocks to deter you from your dreams, but if you really want to do something, you’ll get there with hard work, plenty of luck, plenty of patience - it could really happen.  How everybody gets there is different. Persevere.  Don’t let politics eat you up.  You can always ask, “Why them and not me?”  It’s better not to go there – always try to represent yourself to the highest when you get the opportunity.  Be patient.  And buy more reeds!

David Gould maintains a busy schedule as an active orchestral clarinetist and Artistic Advisor for Vandoren in the United States. He frequently performs with The New York City Ballet Orchestra, and at the Metropolitan Opera as a member of the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra. Mr. Gould is currently the principal clarinetist of the Metro Chamber Orchestra, and has performed with the Orchestre de la Cite, the Lautus Chamber Orchestra, the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, and the Connecticut Grand Opera. He has been in performances with the New Jersey Symphony, the Philharmonic of New Jersey, and the Harrisburg Symphony. He has played under the batons of Bernard Haitink, Kurt Masur, Gerard Schwarz, Leonard Slatkin and many others.

Having been appointed in September of 2005, Mr. Gould has become the newest member of the clarinet faculty at the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music. Mr. Gould received his Bachelor of Music from the Juilliard School as a Jerome L. Greene fellow while studying with Stanley Drucker and David Weber. He continued his studies in Paris, France as one of only two musicians being awarded the Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship.

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