Behold the Clarinet

Early Music Now presents a special concert of four Romantic-era works featuring the clarinet, performed by three top musicians.

By - May 6th, 2015 11:43 am
Clarintetist Eric Hoeprich, Cellist Tanya Tomkins, Pianist Eric Zivian

Clarintetist Eric Hoeprich, Cellist Tanya Tomkins, Pianist Eric Zivian

I can count on Early Music Now to introduce obscure musical selections I had not heard before, performed by player-scholars who have devoted their careers to recreating the listening experiences of several centuries ago. Even late Baroque (17th century) music is considered too “new” to make the cut. Invariably, these arcane selections offer an enticing glimpse into unique sound-worlds, leaving me wondering why they have been nearly lost to contemporary listeners.

This season, concerts have included the early origins of chamber music in 16th century Northern Italy, illuminated text and songs of praise to Virgin Mary commissioned by a 13th century Castilian king and “Laude” songs celebrated by disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi in the 14th through 16th centuries.

A concert this Saturday evening breaks entirely with that pattern. A clarinet trio (clarinetist Eric Hoeprich, cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist/fortepianist Eric Zivian) will play 18th century chamber music, including several well established favorites. “We are recognizing chamber music month,” EMN’s Executive and Artistic Director Charles Sullivan wryly notes. In fact, as he knows best, this concert is part two of a program tracing the history of the clarinet that began September, 2013 with earlier works beginning with the predecessor to the clarinet – the 17th century chalumeau. Hoeprich has traced that history in an authoritative book, The Clarinet.

Four 18th-century Romantic era works offer a number of perspectives on the contribution of the clarinet:

Ludwig van Beethoven, a master of variations, incorporated variations on a popular operatic aria into his Clarinet Trio in B-Flat, op 11. The result is a light-hearted work, well-balanced among the trio.

Carl Maria van Weber‘s Concertino, for clarinet and piano, showcases Weber’s affinity for exploiting the virtuoso capabilities of the clarinet. As such, Concertino has been a favorite of the flamboyant clarinetist.

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka wrote Trio Pathetique in a more tragic mood. His notes suggest a romance gone wrong. Glinka was to inspire an entire generation of late 18th century composers from his country to seek a style of music that captured its culture and that we still identify today as the essence of Russian classical music.

Johannes Brahms, famously, came out of retirement after hearing a virtuoso clarinetist playing Weber. Brahms’ Trio in a minor, op 114 represents a mature work full of lingering melodies and sophisticated ensemble exchanges. Brahms wrote four masterpieces for clarinet plus a few other works before returning to retirement.

In keeping with “essential rules” for an Early Music concert, the trio will perform on instruments appropriate for the period of each work. Hoeprich will play four different historically appropriate versions of the clarinet. Zivian will begin on a forte-piano — a predecessor to the contemporary piano with nearly the clarity of sound of the harpsichord. Tomkins will start with a gut-string-based violincello before playing the Brahms on a more contemporary instrument.

The concert begins at 7:30 PM Saturday May 9 in the Schwan Concert Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College (8815 W Wisconsin Ave).  Eric Hoeprich will offer a pre-talk at 6:30 PM. For further information, including complete performer details and program notes, see the Early Music Now website. Tickets may be purchased on-line or at 414-225-3113. Tickets are $28 – $44, but $10 – $15 for students.

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