We talk with all of the artists involved in this special live CD recording made with the University of Texas Clarinet Choir, under the direction of Vanguel Tangarov. Read on to find out more about the recording process, the repertoire chosen, where you can listen to this CD, and each person's perspective.
What made you want to make this project?
We all know that life creates unique opportunities for us. I had the chance to be a part of a dream team of clarinet players with whom we started and placed the foundations of Clarinet Fiesta, a weekend long event in the heart of Texas. We all saw the great potential of the Fiesta to become a platform for new projects and ideas. The plan for the CD came spontaneously. It was Mitchell Estrin’s idea to arrange and record the “Sinfonia Concertante” by Mozart. It did not take a second longer for everyone to immediately envision and hear Mozart’s wonderful music performed by a Clarinet Quartet (E-flat, B-flat, Basset Horn, and Bass Clarinets) with an accompaniment of Clarinet Choir. I did not have any doubt of the success my wonderful Texas State students and this dream team of soloists: Philippe Cuper, André Moisan, and David Gould would bring to the project. I know that everything happens for a reason and I believe that the reason for the success of the Clarinet Fiesta CD was the passion and the unconditional dedication to the art of clarinet performance. When this exists, there are no limits!
How was it taking an oboe part and adapting it for the e-flat clarinet?
I did not have any concerns about that. The oboe part fits perfectly within the E-flat clarinet range and its register characteristics! I knew that the music will speak by itself. It is Mozart, it is perfect! Of course, I did not want to compete with the vibrato of the oboe. I think the E-flat clarinet has enough uniqueness and flexibility of tone, dynamic range, and resonance qualities to be featured. My goal was to keep everything simple and let the music speak by its own perfection.
How did you choose the repertoire for this recording?
Vanguel Tangarov and I were looking for music for four clarinet soloists with clarinet choir. There is not a wealth of music for this particular combination of instruments. I knew that Matt Johnston had arranged the Schumann Konzertstück, Op. 86 for four horns and orchestra for our instrumentation and we had previously performed the adaptation of Leroy Anderson’s Clarinet Candy. But, we were in need of a centerpiece for the recording. After considering the limited classical repertoire for four soloists and large ensemble, it occurred to me that the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, K. 297b for solo oboe, clarinet, French horn, bassoon, and orchestra could be very effective with four clarinets and clarinet choir, and Vanguel agreed. Especially when considering that the E-flat clarinet has essentially the same range as the oboe, the clarinet part would remain unchanged, the basset horn would be an ideal voice for the French horn part, and the bass clarinet has essentially the same range as the bassoon. I contacted my dear friend and arranger par excellence Matt Johnston and invited him to prepare the adaptation and he readily agreed.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the recording process?
We had extremely limited rehearsal and recording time. It was critical to achieve rhythmic precision, great intonation, and proper balance in the clarinet choir, so that the soloists could sing their lines freely and incorporate the exceptional artistry and subtle nuances heard on the recording.
I am sure you have played this in its original version, but how was it different to play the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with all those clarinets?
Sure the original of Mozart is the best but it is very interesting to play it with a clarinet quartet.
What was it like discovering the Schumann Concertstucke as a performer.
I have liked the Schumann for a very long time. I had a very old recording probably the first or one of the first with the French musicians Barboteu, Coursier, Dubar, Delwarde and the German "orchestre de la Sarre". I dreamed to play with 4 basset horns and orchestra when I was teenager ! Great music but we recorded only the first movement !
Did you have to play the basset horn differently to play the roll of the French Horn?
To be honest, the music speaks quite well for itself and it was not in my mind to try to imitate the french horn qualities since the basset horn is so different in colors and sound dynamics. Although we can match the articulations quite well, I did not try to copy the brass approach but instead I did my best to match the global colors of the phrasing and interaction with the other clarinets, which is obviously a totally different approach. And I think the general result might be quite positive for many listener!
We understand you were ill during this project, how were you able to play while sick?
Well… sick is the word :) As soon as I got out of the plane in Dallas, I started to cough and it grew exponentially as I was getting near the recording session. This had never happened to me before and it was so bad that I had to be taken to a private clinic for examination and treatment. Meanwhile David Gould helped me tremendously by sharing his own emergency kit for coughing, making it possible for me to play at the concert and the recording!
I must say, that this was one of the most stressful situations in my life because I felt the pressure of performing with the potential of making the concert and recording a big flop or even cancel… You can imagine; one would have to find a basset horn player at the very last minute, quite a tense situation.
So, with medications from the clinic, even with the coughing, with focus on the performance and mentally staying as calm as possible, I managed to get myself together and play. One thing is sure; I will always remember this situation and also the kindness and support from all my colleagues whom were so comprehensive toward my health situation. I considered myself blessed that I was able to play everything with this tremendous team of players under Mitchell Estrin's direction because when I came back to Canada, it took 1 month before getting rid of the coughing!
How did you approach playing the bassoon parts in the Mozart on bass clarinet?
Playing music written for other instruments often pose specific difficulties. To try and emulate the bassoon and its articulation can be tricky, fortunately as we were all clarinets I could take a more “clarinetistic” approach and just try and play “normal."
If only Mozart had written for the bass clarinet...
In the Schumann you were the only person playing bass clarinet, why?
In order to cover the whole tessiture or range of the French Horn, somebody had to do it. I tried to keep my sound as clarinet like as possible so as to achieve the homogeneous sound for the solo quartet, as if 4 horns were playing. Schumann works well on the clarinet or bass clarinet. Even though Schumann apparently didn’t want his music played on other instruments then he wrote for (according to an exchange with his publisher), we can play his oboe romances or adagio and allegro written for French horn.
Even though Schumann apparently didn’t want his music played on other instruments then he wrote for, we can play his oboe romances opus 94 or the Adagio and Allegro opus 70 written for French horn and of course our Fantasy pieces opus 73.
How did you come to make these arrangements?
The arrangement of the Schumann Concertstuck first came about for use with my clarinet choir at our annual outdoor concert at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. My roommate at the time was a horn player, thus having horn friends, so we first performed it with four solo horns with clarinet choir accompaniment. Horn players love this piece….. well….. at least the first four measures. A few years later, I realized that three members of my choir had basset horns (and myself with my trusty alto clarinet), so we opted to do it again using clarinets as the solo instruments, and thus the true flexibility of the arrangement was realized. The Mozart arrangement, much more straightforward, was requested by my dear friend Mitch Estrin. And whenever Mitch asks for something, I do it! Haha! Because of the great ranges of the clarinets, transposing the solo parts (oboe, horn and bassoon) to their respective solo clarinet was actually quite a breeze!
How do you approach making an orchestral reduction for a clarinet ensemble?
I certainly have gotten a bit more conservative in my arranging over the years, and especially now from a publishing aspect, I always have to keep in mind the commercial viability of my arrangements, obviously in addition to the actual quality of the arrangement itself. I find that half the battle is choosing the correct instrumentation, in order to get everything to lay as comfortably as possible. Without going into too much detail, I think the key to making a successful orchestral reduction for clarinet ensemble is to be truly realistic as far as what works, and what doesn’t work. Writing something that is impossible (or very difficult) to play will only lead to frustration and a flawed final performance. Also something seemingly obvious, I have found that making sure all the parts have interesting aspects and melodic materials ensure that everybody has something “fun” to play. Overall, I see making arrangements as a bit of a puzzle, wanting to make sure I include all the pieces, all the while making smart and educated decisions when necessary.
What was it like to cross the country and record a clarinet ensemble and soloists like these?
To record people of this stature is quite honestly, intimidating! I’ve worked with “Rock and Roll Stars”, such as Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Denny Laine, Goo Goo Dolls, 10,000 Maniacs, jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, the entire Marsalis Family (dad to kids) and dozens upon dozens of “classical stars”, but these guys, Philippe Cuper, David Gould, Andre Moisan, Vanguel Tangarov with Mitch Estrin as conductor, THAT’S star power! I mean REAL musicians who are at the pinnacle of their field! It was a nervous 20 hour drive to San Marcos, Texas from Clarence, NY for the session. During the drive, I went through every permutation of the session I could think of to prepare. Our “session” (which was also a rehearsal) consisted of only a few hours followed by a live concert! I knew the musicians would nail it, and they did! My trick was – with no sound check, to capture enough material to work with. There were spot mics on every soloist plus the house mics. We went straight into recording, making adjustments along the way. Some of the first takes were not useable as levels, blend and microphones were being re-positioned after each of the first few takes. After we had a blend, I was able to sit back and marvel at the incredible musicianship!
What types of things are you looking for when trying to anticipate problems during the editing process?
There were many pre-production meetings with Mitch and Vanguel. We discussed microphone placement, hall, ensemble set up, potential audience issues, scheduling, how to record and which sections of music offered potential issues. With limited takes to use for editing, I knew each note that was performed MUST be useable. I made sure we had enough takes of the beginnings, ends, and transitions. My eyes and ears were never more than inches from the scores. I knew, if there wasn’t enough quality material, the project would be scrapped. Further adding stress, I had to be sure the recording of the live performance AND the session materials would be able to be intermingled in editing. The musicians are all “one take” quality. No matter how good a musician may be touted, the proof is in the recording. Remember, each musician had a microphone in front of them. If someone went rogue or played out of context, it could potentially ruin the recording. These guys were rock solid consistent! The success of the CD is due to the incredible consistency and high level of musicianship by everyone. Proof? The live performance was used for much of the CD!
Where can we get these arrangements?
These arrangements are published through ALRY Publications, and they can be ordered either directly through the publisher website, or by visiting any music store and simply providing the title of the piece, composer, arranger and publisher information. Because of the flexible nature of these pieces, I also welcome people to contact me if they would like alternate parts or instrumentations, to experience these great works in even more ways.
When can we hear these soloists again?
Check out these artists perform Bacchanale by C.Saint Saën