During the late 80’s I used to subscribe to Musical America, or perhaps it was International Musician. It was informative and advertisements for all kinds of things abounded in these publications and I have always been an avid looker, and buyer. In one of these publications, I came across an advertisement for a set of Opus Clarinets. They were offered by the Principal Clarinetist of a major symphony orchestra at an attractive price which interested me immediately. I purchased this set of clarinets which came in an attractive double case, a couple of case covers, and they appeared to be brand new. I had read about recent advances in clarinet manufacture and was especially interested in the fact that the owner was unhappy with the instruments, mentioning that he felt that they did not project enough, at least for his taste. Upon opening the case, I found a small card which said that these instruments had been designed by William Ridenour and had been tried and adjusted by him. At the time, it meant very little to me as I didn’t know much at all about Mr. Ridenour save for the fact that he worked for Leblanc and had designed these clarinets. They were called Opus. I knew that perhaps my favorite clarinetist was Larry Combs. He had played principal in Momtreal, and then went to Chicago as Eb clarinet, and finally moved to the principal chair. I had known him and of him for years as we first met in 1959 when we were both members of a wind ensemble in Pittsburgh, the American Wind Symphony, conducted by Robert Austin Beaudreau. This was the first year of its existence. At the time I was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music when I auditioned for this summer position.
I arrived at the first rehearsal, was seated in the third chair of the clarinet section , which numbered 6 or seven. The other players included Larry Combs, Peter Hadcock, and Elsa Ludewig. Those were all students at the Eastman School of Music and are quite well known in the clarinet world, presently. Larry sat behind me and was very young, maybe 20 .At the time I played Mazzeo System full boehm selmer clarinets, and there was a whisper around the section as I passed through, “He’s a Mazzeo Student” and from Boston, and he plays Selmers”. All true, and remembering, very exciting. It was a fine ensemble, all student players, and all excited about this new summer position. I remember that Dale Clevenger was in the horn section, and was very young as well. He Became Principal horn in Chicago. We were all young kids and very green. Larry stuck out as an incredibly talented clarinetist, and although we spoke frequently, we were not close. However, as the years passed, I heard him play many times in broadcasts and heard that he had been Principal in New Orleans, then came to Montreal, where I happened to be at the time, teaching at Concordia University, where I played many concerts, taught chamber music, and had a chamber music ensemble which made broadcast recordings for the CBC. I also conducted the Concordia University Symphony orchestra.
Then, Larry was in Chicago where he became principal and stayed in that position for many years. A terrific player, one of the most gifted I have ever heard. Then, the Opus clarinet started to attract attention across the US and Larry was playing on this new Opus Clarinet which became an interest. I bought the set, and heard for the first time about William Ridenour, who I came to know, is probably the foremost clarinet designer of our time. Tom, as I came to know him, has an incredible ear and is one of the very few who is gifted in the art of design , bringing his sensitivity to the clarinet. It was he who designed the Opus and many other of Leblanc clarinets. He left Leblanc and I came to know him as the designer of the Lyrique, an instrument made of hard rubber. This had been of interest to me because of the comparative stability of the material and the ease of working on this material. But, I am getting ahead of myself. The Opus was the horn that first attracted my attention.I tried them, read the note from the original owner and decided that they were superbly in tune and whatever the problem with projection was, it certainly was not mine. I played only chamber music at the time. These horn were the most ideal instruments I had ever played.
(A question for the ages for every clarinetist)Why did I sell them? They were the most even instruments I had ever played and the most in tune, by far. Many of the works recorded on this site were played on the Opus Clarinets. The Brahms Quinet was recoded on my Opus A, And I remember it as the most beautiful Brahms performance I had ever played. It was a live concert, and is my best playing. Check it out, if you wish.
After a time, I wrote to Tom direclty . I had heard that he was designing and manufacturing clarinets made of ebonite , hard rubber. For many years I had been interested in playing on an instrument that was made of something different, something more stable than any wood, and I found that it was hard rubber. Then again, it was designed by the best ear I have experienced, Tom Ridenour. I play on his Lyrique clarinet now.
I have played and tested his new wooden clarinet and found it to be very similar in tuning and projection to my Opus of years ago. I have become an admirer of his and am amzed with his achievements in bringing the best tuning to any clarinet I have ever played. I have tried and played many many hard rubber clarinets designed by him and they have a remarkable consisrtency. Another reason for my admiration is that he has made an absolutely affordable instrument that is as good as anything made today. This is not an ad. I believe it, truly. The thousands of dollars one pays for an instrument made in France is for me, outrageous. I have had many students families have gotten into useless debt in order to get something which holds a false promise.
This has been my belief and my purpose.
Stay and play well.