Beethoven, Opus 11, C clarinet with Forestone

September 27, 2012

On Sunday September 23, we played a concert of Chamber Music, and my piece was the Beethoven, Opus 11. Now, everyone knows and has played this piece many times. It is early Beethoven, closer to Haydn, like much early Beethoven, and has a lovely little cadenza for the piano and a terrific set of Variations for the ensemble, based upon a funny forgotten tune from a un-named opera. It is ideal for just about any concert with this ensemble, always works, and is not difficult to rehearse.But,on Sunday, we played it using the C Clarinet and if anything can make the sound of the ensemble better, and more in tune, it is the C Clarinet . It gives me constant pleasure and I still insist that this clarinet is better naturally in tune than is the Bb. It is simply fun to play. Finally, I played it with the very same Forestone reed upon which I played last May 6th. There is the most salient point I would like to make. All of my life, I have been like you: very picky on reeds, preparing excessively for any concert, changing reeds at the last minute, and wondering constantly if I have chosen the best reed, mouthpiece, and even clarinet,for the concert. I have spent years looking for reeds, saving them, shaving and cutting them,even making them, being completely paranoid about them, and truly never satisfied. But also, I have discovered that any fine reed is excellent, any synthetic reed is preferable to cane, as long as it falls within the parameters of your choice of sound , tuning, mouthpiece and of course, instrument. Without advertising, I have found Forestone to be the reed I prefer, but I think in actuality, I could play on any synthetic. Friends, you do not have to wet them, to soak them to watch them unfurl and become playable. They are ready, anytime you pick them up. There! I have said it! eave the synthetic on the mouthpiece . You can do this most safely. I have myself for many months. My C is not an expensive instrument. It is a good grenadilla instrument with silver-plated keys and I rely on it, and its sound and tuning are well within my ability to play in tune. Yes,it is an Amati, and I do recommend the C clarinet. Mouthpiece is a Gregory Smith, refaced by Richard Hawkins, and I must say, the refacing made the mouthpiece truly excellent. Mouthpieces, clarinets, ligatures vary, and yes, but,limiting the variables during a concert is most important. Life is too short to sit around all day ,picking anything. Keep practicing , and stay well.


Boston, 1931, contract not renewed, and what followed

September 20, 2012

In 1931, Koussevitsky, conductor of the Boston Symphony did not renew the contract of Gaston Hamelin, one of the great clarinetists, founding the so-called American School of clarinet playing.Reason: he played on a metal Selmer Clarinet. “THIS WAS CAUSED BY HAMELIN WAVING HIS CLARINET WHEN GIVEN A SPECIAL BOW BY KOUSSEVITSKY, AND THE PICTURE WHICH WAS SEEN”
The real story of profound changes in clarinets in a large and important musical city, Boston, and the actual people who brought about the changes which ultimately changed the clarinet that many many students play on in their lessons, indeed, their lives. It is also about the profound change caused by the recording industry as it made recorded music compete with itself and lead to the ultimate and slow demise of the American Orchestra, to say nothing of the many aspiring clarinetists who inhabit this changng world.

This is a true story from the 60s, which relates to my own experiences, my knowledge of the scene at the time, and an eyewitness to both the audition, for both Second and Principal clarinet with the Boston Orchestra, as well as the musical demise of Gino Cioffi, still one of the great natural clarinetists of all time. The very first audition was for second clarinet of the orchestra. I auditioned and failed. There were many at that audition, many fine players, and there was a special room, upstairs from the audutions where someone was warming up. Nobody at the time knew, but it was Harold Wright. Of course, he was offered that second job, which he turned down, insisting he wanted the principal which he was awarded during the next year or years. I know what happened with Gino, because a very dear friend was a member of the BSO and a member of the audition committee for the Principal position.
When Gino Cioffi first came to the Boston Orchestra, he came as a replacement for Victor Polatschek, who had been a respected principal clairnetist for several years. He was more of a great musician than a great carinetst, and his sound was criticized, but was a wonderful musician and wote a couple of great study books for the clarinet: one, being a basic, the second,a wonderfully musical book of etudes based o some of the standard orchestral repertoir ; there is even one etude based upon Pierrot Lunaire, by Arnold Schoenberg, one of the great works of chamber music of the 20th century.

When CIoffi replaced Polatschek ,it was really a clarinet epiphony. This man had the most beautiful,liquid sound I had every heard, even including at that time Harold Wright, whom I had heard in the National Smphony which played in Consistutional Hall in DC, not unlike Symphony Hall in Boston. Cioffi played with double lip embouchure as did Wright, but Coffi had crystel, a slight sifference, a beter material than rubber, dangerous, because it can shatter, but more stable. It was also his playing demeanor which was extremely relaxed and in that hall, certainly the sound just floated above that orchestra. His trip was sound and it was unmatched, I thought, and still now, while, as he grow older he began to change. He began to play on the lower side of the pitch, and then, it was just plain flat. I have heard that his errant pitch was actually caused by the very high pitch of the strings, which, reported to me, was in the area of 446-448, very high for any clarinetist. And he became more set in his ways, never being that pleasant, to begin with. As the story, again ,told to me by a member of the orchestra at the time, goes, there was a confrontation between Mr Cioffi and Erich Leinsdorf, the conductor at the time. Mr Leinsdorf posted a message on the bulletin board: “Gino Cioffi will no longer record with the Boston Symphony Orchestra”
After seeing the message Mr. Cioffi prepared for rehearsal and came in a new suit, completely ready for anything. When Leinsdorf arrived, Cioffi was standing, and remained that way until he was noticed by the conductor.
Cioffi told him that if he was good enough for Toscanini, why was he not good enough for Leinsdorf? I really don’t know the length of the episode, but soon after, Gino Cioffi left the Orchestra. It was near that time that auditions were annonced for the Principal Clarinet position. Harold Wright again auditioned for the position of Principal Clarinet. at the time the best clarinet position in the world.

Now, back to my story of the good friend who ws on the audition panel, having signed his name because it paid a few dollars more than other available extra chores. That was his reason, Again, I shall not divulge his name, but will tell the reader that this is a great player, but also the most sarcastic human being one can meet and totally unafraid to say virtually anything to anybody. Knowing him as I do, he could have been high at the time. He asked Mr Wright to “play a C major scale” There was a hush around the table. The words nervy and arrogant were floated about. As we all know, Harold Wright was awarded the position and he went on to a 23 year long tenure with the orchestra, playing with his usual perfection in every aspect of his playing. One of the qualities that Harold Wright possessed was a total respect for the written dynamics. Forte was forte, but his pianissimo was directly from heaven or so it seems to those who play the clarinet. He changed the entire sound of the woodwind section and so, the orchestra. His playing was supported by every member of the wiinds and the orchestra. The pitch improved throughout and one other thing happened as well as many of you know. The clarinets of the Boston Symphony had been Selmer for a number of years. When Harold came, it changed to Buffet, and has remain so ever since.

Of course Gino Cioffi played during a time of great change in the sound of any orchestra. Due to recording procedures and the ability to edit digitally, people were used to hearing a recording with whatever instrument that was playing, sounded almost as if in the room, all due to the subtle competition that was set up by the recording technic and what one wished for in his or her living room. Going to a live concert involved driving, parking, waiting and being quiet. Not like the sound in your own living room, dressed as you will, eating or drinking, or whatever, and just listening to extraordinary playing. Yes , all those who ae able to be placed in an orchestra play very well indeed, but therecording technics have surpassed any kind of live sound. No mistakes of any kind are tolerated or can be, and are certainly fixed in the recording. And so it goes. I believe that this inexorable march toward recording perfection has resulted in the long slow death of the symophony orchestra in the western hemisphere.The competition is increcdbly stifling and only perfection is tolerated.

So, keep practicing , for the love of music and for your self and your colleagues. Strive for beauty, always

stay well, sherman

Symphony Hall Boston,1960, a story, a legend

September 16, 2012

During those times I was studying with Rosario Mazzeo, truly a wonderful Bass Clarinetist, who had first played Eb in the Boston Symphony. There is a recording of him playing “El Salon Mexico” by Aaron Copland,(still availoable) the Eb clarinet solo, with its glissando was his original interpretation. While all Eb players use the gliss now, none ever did it with the absolutely abandon used by Rosie. At that time, he was the personnel manager of the Boston Orchestra. It was he who originated playing behind a screen for auditions, still a sham in my opinion. Everyone knows who is playing, screen or no screen.
In those times, I used to go over to his office to see him for whatever reasons. First I had to call from the street level office. Peggy , his secretary would answer and allow me to come up. On that particular day, I heard the orchestra while I was walking, and slipped into the hall to listen for a while. They were recording, were completely spread out in the entire hall, grouped by instruments, with many microphones, completely the opposite of the usual seating. I forget what they were playng, perhaps it was Ravel, and I stood there, enthralled.

The door opened abruptly and a hand came in and literally grabbed me by the neck, pulling me out into the hallway.
It was Peggy. She told me that if anyone had seen me listening, the entire orchestra would have had to have been paid. This was a rule instigated by the union and Mazzeo. Koussevitsky, the conductor had been so insulting during rehearsals to the members of the orchestra that the rule had been made that rehearsals were to be completely private ,so as to avoid the inevitable embarrassment caused by the conductor.
It is quite amusing to remember bceause she was ordinarily such a gentle soul. grabbing some kid around he neck and pulling him out of the hall is not something one would normally associate with such a gentle person.
Well, the orchetra didn’t spot me and was not p[aid for my error, however it is not something I will ever forget.

The famous story associated with rehearsals with Koussevitsky is one many have heard, but actually occured. They were recording Til Eulenspiegel (Richard Strauss) on 78 rpm. With that speed, recording had to be made for at least ten minutes, with no edits, and either redone or continued until the end of the recording. The famous first horn of th BSO,Willem Adriaan Valkenier cracked one of the notes of the famous horn solo .At the conclusion of the particular segment of recording, he went to Koussevitsky and begged him to re-record that first side of te recording. Koussevitsky refused.
On the way out of the session, Valkenier passed “Koussys” office, the door of which was open. He said, You son of a bitch! Koussevitsky replied nonchalantly, “It’s never too late to apologize”

True story, told to me a Tom Kenny, former Principal horn of Cleveland, Detroit orchestras under Szell,and Paray, and a student of Valkniers.

Stay well, and keep on practicing.