One of the great clarinet virtuosos of our time, David Shifrin, will make his debut this weekend with the Vancouver Symphony, playing concertos by Carl Maria von Weber and Giachino Rossini. Both works are gemlike crowd-pleasers that show off the expressive qualities of the clarinet.
For local classical-music fans, Shifrin is well known as the artistic director of Chamber Music Northwest, and his performances at CMNW festivals are always received with acclaim. His extensive résumé includes solo appearances with virtually every major orchestra around the world, numerous recordings on the Delos, DGG, Angel/EMI, Arabesque, BMG, Sony, and CRI labels, and three Grammy nominations. To top that off, he is a faculty member of the Yale School of Music, an artist member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and has appeared in several national television broadcasts on “Live From Lincoln Center.”
For the Vancouver Symphony program, Shifrin will lead off with the “Concertino for Clarinet,” which Weber wrote in 1811 for a famous clarinetist of his day who premiered the piece in front of King Maximillian of Bavaria. It’s a one-movement work in the form of theme and variations with an episodic style that alternates between pastoral and energetic passages.
“I haven’t done the Weber in a while,” said Shifrin. “I think that it was the first concerto I ever played back when I was a student. It’s is one of the first pieces from the repertoire that advanced students learn. So you can hear a lot of student performances of it, but not real polished ones. It’s a great piece, just beautiful.”
Shifrin will also play the “Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra,” which scholars think that Rossini wrote in 1809 when he was 18 years old. This concerto contains five variations on a theme, and its many challenges include speedy ascending arpeggios and breathless descending scales. At one point, it seems that the clarinetist flings out high notes on an intermittent basis while flying by on a roller coaster.
If You Go
• What: David Shifrin to play Weber and Rossini clarinet concertos with the VSO.
• When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26.
• Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.
• Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $37 for general admission, $32 for seniors and $10 for students.
• On the web: www.vancouversymphony.org
“In Rossini there’s a lot going on,” remarked Shifrin. “It creates a wonderful illusion of two instruments playing at the same time, because your ear attunes to the lower notes and the high notes pop out. You are playing in a fairly even sequence, but with a little resonance in the hall the high notes sound like they are coming from a different place.”
While neither Rossini nor Weber played the clarinet, the one thing that they had in common was that they were both great opera composers. Rossini wrote beautiful bel canto operas and Weber created German Romantic opera, and for these pieces they gave their operatic style to the clarinet.
“Weber and Rossini treated the clarinet as an opera singer,” explained Shifrin. “Sometimes the clarinet is a coloratura, sometimes a baritone. Then you will hear pianistic-type virtuoso passages, changing the clarinet to a keyboard. Weber was a keyboard virtuoso. So you go from bel canto arioso singing to pianistic pyrotechnics. It’s a blast. I love to play this music!”
Also on the Vancouver Symphony program is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, one of the most beloved symphonic pieces in the orchestral repertoire. It contains intoxicating melodic lines that are instantly recognizable from the first measures.
Mozart’s 40th Symphony has been held in high regard for its elegance, refinement and lightness, but it also contains an underlying sense of tragedy. The music also features some surprising shifts from one remote key to another, which must have struck audiences back in Mozart’s time as pretty bizarre. Nowadays, all audiences know where the music is headed, and the trick is to make it all sound as fresh as ever.
The concert will open with the Overture to “Iphigenia in Aulis,” an opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck that is based on ancient Greek legend. Gluck wrote the opera in 1772, and it contains elements of style from both the Baroque and Classic eras. It is interesting to note that Richard Wagner created an arrangement of the Overture that is used by most orchestras today.
All of the works on the program will be conducted by Salvador Brotons, who is in his 26th season as the orchestra’s music director.