After 32 summers of playing principal clarinet in the Glimmerglass Opera Festival near Cooperstown, NY I recently decided to step down – a hard decision but the right one at the right time. One of the many good things to have come from that choice was the opportunity to attend the annual International Clarinet Association‘s annual conference – since they’re scheduled to take place during the summer months I had never been able
to go. Although I have been a member of ICA for many years I really had no idea what to expect at the convention and thought that, at best, I would tire of it rather quickly and wind up making forays into the downtown district to get away from the intensity of All-Clarinet-All-The-Time.
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I absolutely loved it. The International Clarinet Association Convention, aka ClarinetFest, was held this year at the University of Kansas, August 3-7. What struck me most was how everyone–amateurs, beginner students, advanced students, professionals–was welcomed as equals, and how the structure of the overall event supported and encouraged this sense of equality. There were clarinet choirs in which everyone could participate as well as lectures and
recitals to meet everyone’s particular musical/technical interest. Most memorable for me, however, were the evening concerts. I consider myself
something of a hardened professional but I was completely and utterly blown away by the playing of Ricardo Morales, Benjamin Lulich (whose rendition of Weber’s Eb Concerto was absolutely astonishing) and Jonathan Gunn.
At the master class given by Oberlin’s Richard Hawkins I was reminded of how great teachers can really connect with students and alter their playing for the better with just one perfectly phrased suggestion. Last but not least were the exhibition rooms. Display upon display contained every conceivable piece of equipment from the top of the line clarinet to the tiniest accessory. Buffet, Bakun, D’Addario, and Vandoren representatives were all there as well as smaller independent dealers. The cacophony of orchestral excerpts, Mozart concerto phrases, and “noodling” created a (surprisingly) not unpleasant sheet of white noise that only ceased when those rooms closed down for the night.
I saw old friends and made new friends. And at next year’s convention I will know just what to expect.