What a clarinettist can take away from Andreas Scholl

Tonight I just saw the most incredibly life affirming performance by one of the great counter-tenors of our time, Andreas Scholl, accompanied by his wife, Tamar Halperin, at the piano. I thought I should put down in words a few things that are roaring around in my head after the performance:

What we can take away musically:

– Total humility, honesty and generosity. From the outset is was clear that here was a man that is serving the music and serving the audience. There is clearly no ego involved in his art. Rather, what came across was a genuine love for the music and his fellow musician.

-Total musical conviction, flawless presentation. The entire recital was memorised and flowed seamlessly and the program made one hundred per cent musical and dramatic sense. Every phrase was delivered with poeticism and time.

– Simplicity and nuance: Every phrase of every piece was shaped in the most simplest way possible. The sound itself is what was most interesting. During long tones and extended passages sung senza vibrato, the sound was never cold. The warmth came from the timbre itself, not decoration or shifting the amplitude.

What we can take away as clarinet players:

-Sound never needs to be pushed. Scholl employed only the optimal amount of air strength by finding the point where the sound must have resonated best within his body and within the natural acoustic of the room. Wind instrumentalists often push beyond this believing that they are not working hard enough if they are not pushing volumes and volumes of air. This kind of approach takes away warmth, resonance and the sound becomes distorted. In fact, the overall effect is less sound.

Scholl’s lack of ‘push’ revealed the natural character of the human voice in its most pure form. One of my big gripes about modern clarinet playing is that many pre-eminent players and teachers are advocates of pushing so much air through the instrument (resulting in a sound that is too focussed and forced) and falsely claim that this is a pure sound. No! If we compare the modern clarinet sound to the gentler sound of the classical period instrument, it is easy to see that modern playing has ‘thrown the baby out with the bath water.’ I believe that many players have lost track of what the clarinet’s pure sound actually is. Scholl’s voice is a reminder of what we a missing out on.

– The distance between Purcell and Brahms is perhaps not a far as we think. In a world that is obsessed with performance practice, it was interesting to see one of the masters sing Purcell with great Romanticism and Brahms with so much transparency. That was a revelation.

Scholl’s performance reminded me what music is capable of: it is able to send its audience away as more loveable, compassionate people. It was a performance that reminded me that this is my ultimate goal as a performer.


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