I have ben a clarinetist, professor of chmber music and a conductor and other varia, having to do wih a University,studyimg and playing in Europe and other places. During these years, I was known for knowing and/or having played, a great variety of chamber msic from all eras. Also I have 52 works composed for me by various composers. Nobody famous, but who knows, maybe some day.
All of my clarinetists life, I have searched for the most perfect clarinet, and, (by the way) mouthpiece , ligature and of course, reed, including reeds made of every conceivable material, and I made my own for a while. During these many years, I have always read of the clarinets of former virtuosi and also many “wanna-be” virtuosi. Like many of you, I have competed with everyone I could find in Conservatories and all other venues frequented by hungry clarinet players. Like many of you, students and graduates and those waiting to audition for a piteously diminished job market, thoughts of making a good living were always obscured by the desire to play in an orchestra . I auditioned for many and did get a principal position, which I first enjoyed, but then was terribly disappointed,the repertoire being thin ,the conductor, even thinner and without knowledge. The salary was nowhere near commensurate with the years of study I had invested. During this long period of study,
I remember my mother telling me that “Lipsky was making 300 a week.playing popular music.” I was terribly hurt;I moved out of the house and into a small basement apartment which were frequented by rats of all kinds, including a couple of other students. We practiced, fought, and stole each others food.
I did a lot of freelance work in Boston , managed a small music school, and existed, as many of you did. Many auditions followed. I won the audition for principal in an orchestra in a foreign country, but was asked if I would agree to share the position with a local person who had been there for many years. I refused. And, all these years, while striving for perfection, I also searched for the perfect clarinet and accessories. I cannot recall the exact count , but it was many many clarinets and even more mouthpieces and accessories.
As ayoungter, I had hear that the late Beorge Bundy was doing researh on a reed made from sterling silver and became fascinated with that idea,which of course, went from reeds to clarinets themselves. I asked myself the question, “why do clarinets have to be made from wood? There were already instruments, though of a lower qality, made fom plastic and metal, for students, the quality of such being rather poor. So I wondered if it would be possible for one of these companies to make me a set of instruments of another material, a material not so terribly unstable as the wood,the standard clarinet material for a fine instrment since the time of it first appearance during the time of Mozart and before? I had played “Classical” clarinet, three,keyed models up to 8 keys, made of boxwood, and they were and are not in tune, not withstanding the early music movements towards playing music on early “out of tune” instruments. Always however, searching for the perfect clarinet.
Yes, I have listened to every clarinetist of my tme and as many as before my time. They are written about frequently, always with the name of the particular excellent player, never as only “the perfect clarinet”. That dear friends, is the point ofthis writing. I knew the playing of Marcellus, Bonade, Gennusa, Cioffim Drucher Combs and all of the others, both personally and from their recordings.Never the perfect clarinet without the players name Why? Because there is no such animal, nor clarinet. Unto itself the clarinet is totally mute, making no sound. All of fhem. So let us continue to talk of the wonderful players, but please no more talk of the qualities of beauty in a piece of wood. There is none.
Personally, without a doubt, the finest clarinetist was the late Harold Wright, who was principal in Boston for 23 years, making outstanding recordings of most of the solo repertoire and chamber works as well, with the Casals Festival the Marborough Festival and, on many recordings.
Richard Dyer, of the Boson Globe said of him “Although Harold Wright is a consummate virtuoso of the clarinet, you don’t so much listen to him as overhear him as he steals sound from silence; drawing us into a volatile private world of thought, feeling and dream.” Wright only possessed an understanding of making the sound of music better than any other of any time. Conception? Imagination? Ear? It remained during his time.
Of Heifetz, it is said When his admirers remarked how beautiful was the timbre of his Strad, Heifetz opened the instrument’s case, listened, and said ” I don’t hear a thing “
Play well and cover up for winter.