Local listeners may remember clarinetist Christian Ellenwood, a Lincoln native, graduate of Southeast High School and alumnus of Rocky Ridge Music Camp. Now Associate Professor of Clarinet at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, Ellenwood is a passionate recitalist, chamber musician, and composer. His compositions have been performed in the United States and Canada, and he is currently working on several commissions. As a clarinetist, Ellenwood has performed with the Ying Quartet, the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, the San Francisco-based Ives Quartet, the EastWind Quintet, and is frequently heard in live radio broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio. He has presented solo and chamber music recitals throughout the United States and Pacific islands of Japan, Guam, and Hawaii. His playing can be heard on Albany Records and on CD projects produced by UW-Whitewater. Ellenwood has performed as principal clarinetist in many organizations, including the Skylight Opera of Milwaukee, the Woodstock Mozart Festival (IL), Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera and the 1992 Eastman Wind Ensemble Japan tour. In 2002, Ellenwood won the Roseman Award, UW–Whitewater’s highest honor for excellence in teaching. He is listed in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, 1998 and 2000.
Fantasy Piece for clarinet, viola, and piano was commissioned in 2003 by the MacDowell Music Club in Janesville, Wisconsin, to commemorate the club’s centennial anniversary. The MacDowell Music Club began life as the Schumann Club; accordingly this composition looks back to Schumann for harmonic and melodic inspiration. Robert Schumann composed a wonderful set of fairy tale pieces for the same combination of instruments. The Fantasy Piece is comprised of three major sections, with the inner section featuring an expansive viola melody. This concert marks Lincoln’s first performance of the Fantasy Piece.
— Becky Van de Bogart
What started in August 1938 as a casual conversation between József Szigeti and Benny Goodman very quickly turned into a significant chamber work by one of the world’s leading composers, Béla Bartók (1881–1945). Szigeti, a pre-eminent violinist of the time, sent the request to Bartók—although it was the world-renowned jazz clarinetist Goodman who officially commissioned (i.e., paid for) the work. In his letter, Szigeti requested a duo for clarinet and violin with piano accompaniment, consisting of two contrasting movements, 6–7 minutes in duration, with cadenzas for both the clarinet and violin.
Szigeti was probably expecting a short, flashy show-tune, in which case he got much more than he bargained for. Janos Karpati (Bartok’s Chamber Music, Stuyvesant, NY, Pendragon Press, 1976) writes, “Despite the commission, Bartók composed not what is known as a concert piece, but a chamber-music work, a worthy cousin of the string quartets and sonatas, which in both its material and structure follows the laws of chamber-music form.”
Contrasts is a three-movement work nearly three times the duration of the original request. The music is an amalgam of abstracted Hungarian folk music combined with Rumanian dance melodies, Bulgarian and Greek meters, and a highly personalized, first-class command of 20th-century compositional techniques. The second movement was omitted from the first performance. Apparently, Bartók was trying to adhere strictly to the original commission for two movements. However, internal evidence convincingly suggests that the middle movement was conceived along with the other two.
Verbunkos, the first movement, is based on a dance, and characterized by a bouncy rhythmic figure (dotted eighth-sixteenth) and passages that alternate between slow determination and medium agitation. The second movement, Piheno (“relaxation”), is purely atmospheric. Its lack of a strong pulse stands in contrast to the driving beats in both the outer movements. The final movement, Sebes (fast dance), is a frenzied dash, whose only detour is an off-balance but still quick-moving section in the uncommon meter (8+5)/8. The beginning of the final movement calls for the use of a violin with several of its strings tuned differently (scordatura). This yields a courser, rougher sound that suggests the playing of a folk musician. The clarinet part requires the use of both B-flat and A clarinets, which is done to more easily facilitate technical passages in different key signatures. While the first movement is scored for A clarinet, some players prefer to play it on B-flat clarinet. The transposition makes certain technical passages easier to play. However, there are several low Es in the movement, which the B-flat clarinet can’t play, thus the transposition is somewhat problematic musically.
— Excerpted from ET’s Clarinet Studio by Eric Tishkoff (www.tishkoff.com)
Rich and powerful musical language and a strong sense of drama have made Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave one of the most respected and exciting contemporary composers in the Western world. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 27, 1928, she studied first at the University of Edinburgh and later at the Conservatoire in Paris, where she spent four years as a pupil of Nadia Boulanger before establishing herself back in London as a prominent member of British musical life with her orchestral, choral, operatic, and chamber works. In 1971 she married the American violist and opera conductor Peter Mark, and has resided in the U.S. since 1972.
Musgrave has consistently explored new means of projecting essentially dramatic situations in her music, frequently altering and extending the conventional boundaries of instrumental performance by physicalizing their musical and dramatic impact. As she once put it, she wanted to explore dramatic musical forms: some works are dramatic-abstract—that is, without programmatic content—whereas others like Pierrot are concretely programmatic. Thus the players are conversants in the musical dialogue, very much the living (and frequently peripatetic) embodiment of dramatis personae.
Pierrot was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio and premiered in April 1986, in Istanbul, Turkey. In Ms. Musgrave’s own words, “A chance rediscovery of Debussy’s La Sérénade Interrompue was the starting point for this work, and an obvious association of ideas led easily to thoughts of Pierrot. A fortuitous coincidence, since the characters in the story are three and this work was to be a trio! The form of the work follows the story quite closely and there are thus eight short sections.”
There are several musical links with the Debussy prelude. As in the Debussy the two serenades are in keys a major third apart (here A minor and D-flat major; in the Debussy, B flat minor and D major). However, in Pierrot both serenades are interrupted: Harlequin successfully interrupts Pierrot’s serenade, and later Pierrot tries unsuccessfully to interrupt Harlequin’s. Two other short motives from the Debussy prelude can easily be discovered. Throughout, the violin represents Pierrot, the clarinet Columbine and the piano Harlequin, though the instruments do also have some accompanimental function.
— Excerpted from www.theamusgrave.com
Pan Am was written for Zeitgeist, a contemporary music ensemble based in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a collage of folk melodies from the Americas combined with newly-composed elements. In sequence order the sections are: Ohnmacht Choros (introductory sound file); Danza Wipfala (Bolivia) in two settings; Tango Dada; Bagee (Caribbean); Sound Bay Gal (Caribbean); and Coda (shortwave radio sound file).
To understand the process of this piece, imagine listening to an analog radio with the tuner set on the far left end of the frequency spectrum. As the piece unfolds, the tuner moves across the dial. At times more than one broadcast can be heard simultaneously; at times the signal is too fuzzy to make much sense.
The most exciting performance of this piece took place in April of 1990 in Berlin. Zeitgeist was playing at Badenscher Hof, a restaurant and jazz bar. The ensemble was just getting to the end of Tango Dada, when the police came in and shut down the music. Trouble had been brewing for a long time between the jazz room and the neighbors, and that night Tango Dada was the tipping point for serving the court order. The band returned to Badenscher Hof two years later to play in a thoroughly sound-proofed room.
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