Interview conducted by Rebecca Scholldorf
Rebecca: When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?
Michael: When I was ten years old. I heard Benny Goodman for the first time and just knew that’s basically what I wanted to do.
RS: When was the defining moment that you knew you were going to be a performer?
MN: I’m not sure there was a “defining moment” actually, because it was just what I always wanted to do. So, there’s not much to tell about that. But, I think one of the best memories I have where I realized how powerful music could be, was when I played second clarinet at Carnegie for the JVC Jazz Festival. They had hired Orpheus to be the backup band. We did Wayne Shorter’s 70th birthday and we had no idea that Herbie Hancock was coming. It was kind of cool to be on stage just in the background and watch 3,000 people stand up and scream!
RS: Who are your musical inspirations?
MN: On the clarinet side, my teachers Richard Stoltzman, Kalmen Opperman, Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, Eric Mandat and Alain Damiens who was a player in the Ensemble Contemporain in Paris. But I actually like to listen to non-clarinet players a lot more, Arthur Rubinstein, Jaqueline du Pré, Itzhak Perlman, Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price. RS:Rubinstein, his Chopin Waltzes...MN: Rubinstein anything. He’s the only musician whose records I actually own all of. I sought them all out and I could listen to them until the cows come home. The way that he works with harmony and the way that he steals time; it’s such flexible, wonderful playing.
RS: What are the greatest challenges you face as a musician and how have you overcome them?
MN: The greatest challenge is recognizing that music is also a business. I don’t like for it to be a business but, unfortunately, part of it has to be. I try to overcome it by hopefully working with people that have ideas to do great projects with great people and when that happens, usually a lot of other things sort of take care of themselves. So, I keep trying to focus on the artistic aspect of things instead of the financial aspect.
RS: What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician?
MN: Travelling and meeting people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, particularly children. I don’t have children myself, and so it’s a rather wonderful thing to watch a kid’s face light up and when I travel I get to do that sometimes. I think teaching is also great; teaching allows you to hopefully pass on some of the lineage that you have and I have been blessed with a pretty great lineage and I learn as much from my students as I hope they learn from me. Music takes you to all kinds of different places, it’s a pretty wonderful life and I’m so grateful to have had so many great experiences with terrific people.