1.Since this is your debut album, what inspired you to choose the repertoire for “Dante Dances?”
My initial aim was to record pieces that have not yet been recorded and as I began exploring works for the project, I selected music I have enjoyed playing over the years and that I have personal connections with. There are 3 works that have a connection to SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music where I teach: Welcher’s Dante Dances, Frackenpohl’s Sonatina and DelBorgo’s Elegy. Welcher was a student at Crane for a couple years prior to going to Eastman, and Frackenpohl and DelBorgo were on Crane faculty. The fourth work, Sonatina by Douglas Lilburn was a gift from a friend in New Zealand and I was so captured by the work, I thought it was a nice addition to the album.
2.What tips would you suggest for people looking to record their own album?
If you can, spread out recording sessions so you can focus on one work at a time. Often time is money, but because Mark Custom Records was up in Potsdam to record the Crane Wind Ensemble for a forthcoming album throughout the academic year, I was able to engage them as well during those visits. We recorded the album over 3 separate recording sessions spread across 4 months. It allowed time to focus and prepare each work and get the best takes without the stress of having to move onto the next work before we ran out of time.
3. Was “Dante Dances” inspired by Dante’s “Inferno”? If so, how do you believe Dan Welcher used the music to convey Dante’s journey?
Yes, at the time Dan Welcher received the commission from clarinetist Bradley Wong, he was reading Dante’s Inferno, which inspired the work. Welcher divided the work into the seven sections following Dante’s journey:
Introduction: The Gates of Hell “abandon all hope, ye who enter here”(Cadenza);
Tango (for Charon, the ferrymanacross the Styx);
Charleston (for Cereberus – the Three headed dog outside the Third Circle of Hell);
Polka (for the furies);
Gymnopedie (for Paolo and Francesca the ill fated lovers);
Schottische (for Ulysses);
Prestissimo! Tarantella (for Gianni Schicchi).
As Dante’s journey intensifies, pushing the performer to the edge of control. The work is both very exciting to play as well as to hear. I have enjoyed visiting with Welcher about the work over the years, Welcher has a Crane connection as he spent a couple years as a Crane student before he went to Eastman.
4. How was your experience working with Arthur Frackenpohl and Elliot Del Borgo before his passing?
I have known the name Arthur Frackenpohl since I was a college student through his band music and chamber music arrangements. My college teacher David Etheridge taught with Frackenpohl back in the 1960s-70s at the Crane School of Music and always told stories about him during my undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. I was thrilled when I joined the Crane faculty and got to know Art. I was able to work with him on both his Sonatina and his Sonata for his 85th and 90th Birthday Celebrations (respectively). Art will turn 95 this year and I’m thrilled we could release the recording of his Sonatina! When I first played this for him, he talked about being very free and expressive, but let the character come through, particularly with the middle movement. His movement titles are simple: Not too fast, Very Slowly and Quite Fast. He wrote the Sonatina when he was studying with Darius Milhaud at Tanglewood and you certainly hear the influence of his mentor. I hope listeners will be charmed by this Sonatina and enjoy playing it themselves. Del Borgo wrote the Elegy for the memorial service of my undergraduate professor Dr. David Etheridge in 2010 as they were good friends when they taught together at Potsdam and remained friends for life. Elliot sent me the music and I shortly thereafter made a practice recording and sent it to him prior to my first performance for feedback. Like Frackenpohl, his advice was to be free and expressive. He wrote this to honor a dear friend and colleague and to let that expression of love and friendship come through.
5. Did any of the pieces pose unique challenges? How did you approach them?
Anytime you record, you are presented with unique challenges. Prior to our session for Dante Dances, we discovered a thermostat in the concert hall that was hissing causing extra sound on the mics. We were able to locate and stop the hiss before the recording session, but it caused us to start a little later. During another session, I began to feel ill and my ears stuffy, the next day, I came down with a sinus infection! But in these situations, the show must go on, even if you might not be physically in your best shape or if something happens to distract you from the performance, you have to get back on track and make music with the time you have. Each take has to be as fresh as a live performance or the recording becomes stale and mechanical. When you have been recording for 3 hours and are tired, it takes a great deal of energy to keep things very fresh.
6. What were some of the things that surprised you about the process of making an album?
When listening during the editing process, you feel compelled to fix every little detail you don’t like. This entrance, this release, this one note is a hair out of tune or you don’t like the timbre of the note. You listen to take after take trying to find that perfection but ultimately you have to step back and see the overall picture, realize that you are going to be the biggest critic of your own playing and those small things you hear are most likely imperceptible to others. We are all human and even though we could literally drop in every note if we wanted to while recording, we have to listen to the overall picture and know that in live performance, things are never absolutely perfect. Recording almost makes that perfection attainable, and we all want to put out the best product possible. You learn through this process to listen with different ears and certainly to prepare in a more thorough way, even if you feel your preparation is thorough. I am performing the Frackenpohl Sonatina on a recital tomorrow (February 26) and I know I’m playing the work with different ears than I did prior to recording and editing.
7. What would you like the listeners to take away from this album?
I hope listeners enjoy the music and that clarinetists will explore and add these works to their own personal repertoire.
8. Where can people find or listen to this project?
It can be found on Mark Custom Recordings website, Naxos and eventually others who choose to carry the album.
Find the album here
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