“If they are so bad, why are they so popular”

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I thoroughly enjoy reading your columns — they’re informative, entertaining, and you get right to the point.

I find your opinions about Buffet clarinets particularly interesting. You say they’ve got all sorts of problems, don’t play in tune, and require the player to make many adjustments during the course of playing to get the instrument to play properly.

My question is simple — if all this is true, why do so many terrific clarinetists play them? I can understand that they’re popular with the general population of clarinetists because world-class professionals play them. What I can’t understand, is why would (many of) the best of the best play with them and no others? Don’t they want every advantage to make their playing even better,? Why would they put up with all the troubles you cite? Is there something that a Buffet has that makes up for all the drawbacks you mention?

Once again, thanks for providing such an interesting perspective on clarinets for us to enjoy.

Regards,

E.L.

Dear E.L
Many thanks for your compliments,and commentary on my commentaries concerning Buffet clarinets. They are appreciated.

Everything you say is true; it is only a question of degree. There are a couple of hasty generalizations to which I will respecfully draw your attention.

First, as to your statement posed as a question: “why do so many terrific clarinetists play them?”
Answer, they don’t. Three of the finest living clarinetists play others: They are Larry Combs, Principal of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,(retiring this year),Eddie Daniels, a player who is renown for his jazz playing, but also plays so-called classical, with equal aplomb, play Leblanc Clarinets, and have for a number of years. The late Anthony Gigliotti, principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra, did play Buffet, however at the conclusion of his career played the Selmer 10G clarinet. And let us never forget Mr.Morales, the current Principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra when last I heard, plays Selmer “Recital”, really a different bore than all the other mentioned..I think one would agree that they are all “terrific” clarinetists.The New York Philharmonic clarinets have always been Buffet players, but not the Boston Symphony, where all the section played Selmer, until Mr Cioffi retired. Boston was a Selmer town, as NY was a Buffet town. Now, this was not the reason, but what the current principals play is frequently the way the students follow, terrific or not. I cannot make a list of the various major symphonies and what clarinet they all play, but I do think that every single player mentioned is a “terrific” clarinetist. I make that statement with certainty because they have all passed the most rigorous audtion process ever devised. Many of the people you consider to be “terrific” are not that, and that is my opinion,separate from fact. The barrier I create by having to pass the audition and to play each day in front of the world the repertoire, without error.

But this is not a statement about Buffet or Selmer, for there are many terrific players who play neither. I speak of Sabine Meyer, and this young Bliss fellow, also playing other instruments than Buffet as do most of the symphonic clarinetists of Europe. They play a different clarinet with a different mouthpiece, bore and reed.

Choice of instrument has a lot to do with tradition and the principal players of the Big 5 in the US back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s all played Buffet, except for Boston, which had the tradition of beging a Selmer orchestra, and there is a special reason for that, too. Gaston Hamelin was the Principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1930, his contract was not renewed by Maestro Kousevitzky, the reason being that he played on the Selmer Metal Clarinet, metal being the operative word. This was a superlative instument, but it was metal. Selmer, very quickly took the instrument out of prodction and their catalog. Hamelin simp,ly went back to France. He took with him students, one of whom was McClane, who returned to play Principal in the Philadelphia for 8 years until he passed away, almost on stage, his second being Gigliotti, who helped prop him up in his final days, and who became Principal. These players had someone who is no longer around, Hans Moenig, who doctored McClanes clarinets for years.He was the magician.

Presently , there is Tom Ridenour and others as well. Ridenour designed the “Opus” and “Concerto”,played by Combs and Daniels, mentioned above. If you are interested in traveling to Duncanville, Texas, I’m sure Tom will greet you with cordiality. (Call first.)

Please refer to my article written in August,” Buffet and Anthony Gigliotti” in which a former student of Gigliotti tells of the procedure in which Buffet clarinets were chosen for him to try, which I found extremely interesting. The production workers on line in every factory know whats is special and they went over the horns produced for the finest instruments for Gigliotti. He in turn, would let Moenig work over them until they were up to professional standards. He is legend in the clarinet business, Moenig, and in his shop ion Philadelphia he worked on literally everybody who was either in Philadelphia or anywhere near Philadelphia, and I mention , for many , it “was always” Moenig.

Here is a list of what is not my opinion, but what I and many others have found to be true of the ordinary Buffet clarinet:

1.the silencers for the keys played by the little finger are made of plastic which is , as one reviewer said, “is an accident waiting to happen”

2. The throat notes are in general, sharp, the low E, F and F# are flat. The high C is sharp, and the high e and f are flat, all these are standard for this clarinet.

3. Currently, there have been problems with plating peeling off.

Now these are almost standard on all Buffets, however they are fixable by an acoustician who can hear and can play the clarinet. But, to whom do you bring your horn? There are many who can tune, however the price can be prohibitive for the student, and there are many young people who do not hear all that well so they perhaps buy the horn just to have “Buffet”. Cost of Buffet is just too much for a young student to bear, and I’ve seen students who have to borrow to buy them or have their parents do so, and I find that difficult, when there are so many other clarinets that come better prepared, in tune, and with little defective issues, which are facts I have found and certainly not my opinion.

Yamaha clarinets are generally to be somewhat of a copy of a Buffet, and they are, but, without the defects mentioned above.

So, while I do state some facts about clarinets, I do nor consider them opinions. They are facts, as I have discovered them, generally true of all high end Buffets. Yes, they can be fixed mostly, the only question being, whom does one ask.

I hope this helps . Best regards,
Sherman

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One Response to “If they are so bad, why are they so popular”

  1. Principle of Milwaukee plays Selmer Signatures
    Principal of San Francisco plays a set of Opus clarinets
    Atlanta the same; Concerto clarinets
    Most of the recent orchestral jobs opened have been won by non-Buffet players.

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