Clarinetfest 2017

Category: Article Clarinet Classical Jazz | Date posted: 17 October 2017

Author: Anna Hashimoto

Anna Hashimoto reports on the world’s biggest annual festival of the clarinet, which this year took place in Orlando, USA, on 26-30 July


It’s been a grueling 19 hours or so since leaving my flat when I walk out of Orlando airport and enter a taxi to the Hilton DoubleTree, the venue for ClarinetFest 2017. The weird combination of dark clouds and bright sun gives a
dystopian feel to the journey, with flat landscapes and endless roads, but once at the hotel it’s a paradise. Greeted with a warm cookie I have 10 minutes to scoff it, dump luggage in my room (there’s someone next door practising octave leaps on the clarinet) and head to the 8pm concert.

I haven’t yet registered so have no idea what to expect as I walk into a packed conference hall with around 1,500 other clarinettists. Caroline Hartig, the ICA’s president, awards honorary membership to Richard Stoltzman, Luis Rossi and Eddie Daniels, then the concert commences with Stephen Ahearn performing Debussy’s Première rhapsodie with orchestra. Despite the dry acoustic the beautiful orchestration comes through. This is followed by an enthusiastic Carmen Fantasy and Carnival of Venice virtuosically performed by Milan Rericha, both great arrangements for clarinet and orchestra. I believe two or three super-Gs are released at us! This is followed by our very own Julian Bliss wowing us with the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto to a standing ovation.

It is the interval, but I can’t keep my eyes open so I head to bed. My thoughts that evening: Stanley Drucker, Richard Stoltzman and Eddie Daniels walk into a bar. No, it’s not a joke: it’s ClarinetFest 2017!



I pick up my welcome pack and realise what a treat I missed last night – the second half was Stoltzman and Eddie Daniels! Still, there are literally hundreds more concerts to be enjoyed and I head into the first concert of the morning
(8.30am!) opened by a lighthearted trio (two clarinets and piano) performing a world premiere of Scott McAllister’s Amicitia Suite. One of the movements quotes multiple orchestral excerpts in the framework of a Brahms sonata movement
– lots of in-jokes! This is followed by Sarah Watts and Osiris J Molina with funky bass clarinet duets.

I take a break and wander into the exhibition – it’s massive! My immediate reaction is to run away but I actually need to walk through it to access my hotel room without going outside (where it is sweltering), and I come out the other end with a new ReedGeek. I didn’t know this device before but actually it’s fantastic, and I spend the morning adjusting all my reeds!

The afternoon highlights for me are Stephan Vermeersch’s bass clarinet performance of a new work called The Sacred Teaching of the Lonely Goose by Cornelius Boots. What a title! There is also a wonderful trip through Britain during Sarah Watts’ recital, with works from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Scotland-inspired work, Roddy’s Reel by Birtwistle, even involves audience participation with mass clapping, sea noises and a solo clapper! The rest of my day is taken up with rehearsing, so more tomorrow…


Yesterday the clarinettist who drove me to my rehearsal had an incredible story: he worked full time in IT while completing his music degree and was a certified pilot, and had flown to ClarinetFest! So this morning I decide to go and listen to his Ohio Clarinet Choir performance. Conducted by ICA president Caroline Hartig, the performance is full of fun and includes a crazy mash-up of all the famous clarinet pieces, the finale being the Lutosławski Dance Preludes turning into the Can-can.

There is a fantastic concert in the afternoon of clarinets with percussion, featuring the University of Central Florida Percussion Ensemble. Highlights include a world premiere of a work by Antonia Fraioli called ClariPercussions, featuring solo clarinettist Paolo Beltramini with clarinet quartet and percussion. There is also the clarinet quartet Four New Brothers, comprised of European bass clarinettists Sarah Watts, Sauro Berti, Rocco Parisi and Stephan Vermeersch, with another world premiere of a new work by Daniel Adams entitled Transitory Liaisons. As if clarinet and percussion wasn’t mad enough, Matthias Müller takes to the stage with his bass clarinet and electronics device SABRE, performing his own composition depicting the creation of the universe. His talk grabs everyone’s attention, boldly stating that his device will ‘make clarinet great again!’. He performs with much fervour and movement, triggering extraordinary noises from the speakers and from the instrument.

This evening it’s my own performance: music for clarinet and wind band! The Southern Winds are a wonderful symphonic wind band based in Orlando, comprising faculty professors, music teachers, professional players and keen amateurs, conducted by Douglas L Phillips. The evening starts with French clarinettist Nicolas Baldeyrou’s elegant rendition of a Weber concertino and Jeanjean’s variations on ‘Au clair de la lune’. This is followed by Julie DeRoche and her son and percussionist Jeffrey DeRoche performing the world premiere of Seung-Won Oh’s Concerto for Wood, Skin and Metal – quite a contrast! After the interval Alex Fiterstein performs a concerto by David Maslanka, and finally, at around 10pm, I perform an arrangement of Rossini’s Introduction, Theme and Variations. The band are fantastic, full of energy and enthusiasm, and even so late in the evening the audience gives us a standing ovation. I go to bed with Matthias’s words still ringing in my head, ‘make clarinet great again!’.


Despite the late night I want to make the most of my free day so head to the 8.30am recital, coffee in hand. It is a contrabass extravaganza with Jason Alder performing two new works on two different contras. It certainly woke us up! Jason is about to start a PhD in Manchester, so we look forward to more low rumbles up north!

Flicking through the brochure, another concert that takes my fancy is The Licorice-Sticks Clarinet Choir performing arrangements of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Artie Shaw’s Clarinet Concerto. The group walks on with feather boas and elegant clothes, traditional 1920s attire being their unique look, and deliver a fun-filled performance!

The joy continues at the exhibition in the form of trying out a new Brazilian clarinet called Devon & Burgani, beautifully crafted instruments made of recycled Brazilian wood. I particularly love the lighter wood instrument. One to watch!

In the afternoon I enjoy Henri Bok’s bass clarinet recital, featuring many of his own chamber music compositions. Who knew that two bass clarinets and a saxophone blend so well! After this I spend an hour at the Vandoren stand where they have prepared an autograph session for anyone who wants my poster! It is an opportunity to try out their new pink-gold M/O ligature, and I’m excited to report that it sounds as gorgeous as it looks! At one point the Selmer stand attacks us with a bag of polo mints, bizarre but tasty and a little peek into the antics that take place when you spend days at the same stand. I leave with two new Vandoren T-shirts and head to a performance by the exciting PEN trio, a reed trio with Phil Paglialonga on clarinet. They perform an atmospheric new work called Pacific by Daniel Eichenbaum, featuring electronics and ocean noises.

In the evening the ICA Professors’ Choir sets the mood for celebration, and the ICA Awards Ceremony takes place, introducing the winners of the various competitions that have happened this week. A sweet moment is when the ICA’s international representative board director Stephan Vermeersch presents Caroline Hartig with a box of Belgian chocolates to thank her and to signify that next year’s ClarinetFest is to take place in Belgium. Many jokes are cracked, and the evening closes with a jazz concert featuring clarinettists Ken Peplowski and Allan Vaché.


There are more performances today, but I decide to skive and see Universal Studios before my flight home!

All in all this festival was pretty epic. Keith Koons, this year’s artistic director, and the whole ICA team did an incredible job bringing together such an array of clarinettists and ensembles. Something which struck me was the number of new works written for the occasion. How fantastic this festival is to have all these world premieres expanding our repertoire!There were multiple performances happening at once, yet I never felt overdosed on clarinet. This is truly a haven for clarinet lovers, and I feel everyone must experience at least one ClarinetFest in their life. It’s like a rite of passage.

A big thank you to everyone who made this trip possible: Peter Eaton, Help Musicians UK, Birmingham Conservatoire, Vandoren and CASSGB! See you all in Belgium next year!

Photos by Ted Lane

About Anna Hashimoto

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at 48 Henniker Point, Leytonstone Road, London, E15 1LQ. Email: finance (@) cassgb.org. Tel: 0845 644 0187

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