[Voice Magazine] Nikkudim: Points of Light Clarinet Concerto
By Daniel Kepl, Voice Magazine
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A musical narrative never before heard on the west coast will be soulfully breathed into a solo clarinet and full orchestra when the Santa Barbara Symphony performs the West Coast Premiere of American composer Jonathan Leshnoff's new Clarinet Concerto, Nikkudim, with their own Principal Clarinet Donald Foster as soloist. The concert pair will take place on Saturday, February 11th at 8pm and Sunday, February 12th at 3pm in the Granada Theatre.
Don Foster has been the Principal Clarinet with the Santa Barbara Symphony for 19 years, and has performed his share of the standard concerto for the instrument with our orchestra and the Pasadena Symphony, where he also serves as Principal. But it's rare to have the opportunity to perform the West Coast premiere of a major new work for clarinet. It is a co-commission with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which gave the world premiere on April 14, 2016 with that orchestra's Principal Clarinet Ricardo Morales as soloist.
Santa Barbara Symphony Music & Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti has chosen a program that will begin with Franz Schubert's iconic Symphony No. 8, "Unfinished" and end with Aaron Copland's massive Symphony No. 3.
"Learning a piece brand new from scratch--I can't remember the last time I had to do that, specifically in a solo setting, and it's been wonderful," Foster declared during a video interview with VOICE. "The most difficult thing for me about this piece is the necessity of endurance. It does not let up, there's very little resting for the clarinetist to just take a breath and sit for a second to regain physical composure. Learning the notes is difficult, but playing it from beginning to end really is the most taxing. It's literally just tiring, but for all the right reasons."
Leshnoff has scored his new concerto for a very large orchestra, whihc is also unique in the concerto genre. "It's scored with triple winds and utilizes a full brass section, percussion, piano, and harp," Foster explained. "There aren't too many concertos that do that. If you think about our war horse concertos for clarinet - Mozart, Weber - they're very light orchestrations, maybe pairs of winds but certainly not a full complement orchestra. I'm excited about that; just getting to share the stage with the entire orchestra will be great."
The composer has said in interviews that he consideres the clarinet to be a uniquely spiritual instrument, "because unlike the guitar or even the violin, the clarinet is connected by the breath, the inner essence of the play being expressed right in the instrument."
After spending months learning and living with the piece, Foster offered regarding Leshnoff's message to the world, "I've really hunkered down over the last few weeks trying to to just that, because as with anything, whenever you're the voice of the piece, it doesn't matter if it's Brahms or Leshnoff, it's a responsibility to communicate that correctly...Leshnoff subtitles the concerto Nikkudim. Roughly translated, and this is from Jonathan's own communication to me, it means 'points' in Hebrew. The second movement connotes the idea of an abundance of giving. It never lets up, so it's constantly giving. The melancholy parts and the introspective parts of the first and the final movements are the most difficult to communicate, because it is so plaintive. It is repetitive, but I think on purpose; a simple falling line that presents itself in many different forms, in many dynamics, with different sorts of foundations behind it. Leshnoff writes incrediblyspecific dynamics in that section. Also, the world rubato appears alot in the first and final movements. Rubato meaning borrowed time. It's up to the performer to move at leisure and that's Leshnoff trusting the player. The second movement is very rhythmic and by the jigsaw nature of it, has to stay rigid, and it's a lot of fun."
The honor of performing a West Coast premiere, especially in the wake of Ricardo Morales' performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra last April, was not lost on Foster. "I think this concerto is going to have a long life. It's accessible; it's not a piece that will age out; it's going to stay with us. I'm excited to do it."
The Principal Concert Sponsor is the Samarkand; the Concert Sponsor is Patricia Gregory, for the Baker Foundation; and Selection Sponsors are John and Ruth Matuszeski.