Posts tagged #clarinet

Solo Spotlight: Laurel Stinson Gives It Another Go

This week, we're checking in with Grand Street Community Band soloists Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson! They're preparing solos for two pieces on the GSCB concert program at MMC's March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony

In Part 2 of Solo Spotlight, we hear from Laurel Stinson, clarinetist and Assistant Conductor of Grand Street Community Band! Laurel has been performing with the MMC for the last four seasons, made her Carnegie Hall conducting debut last June with the Grand Street Community Band, and plays with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. She's also a music educator at Grand Street High School! 

Whew! With such a full musical schedule, Laurel shared how she's preparing for her performance, what she loves Blue Shades, and her very special good luck charm. 

Click here for Part 1 of Solo Spotlight where Lena Barsky talks about her part in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Yes. We meet again..." I played the solo with the Ithaca College Symphonic Band about 8 years ago. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

The bends in the jazzy style of Blue Shades are simply fun to play. I'm able to express the music freely. 

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

I usually have my back to the ensemble as assistant conductor [of GSCB] so I'm looking forward to facing the other direction. I'll be able to perform for the audience rather than expressing the music to the musicians through gesture while the audience only gets half of the musical picture. 

What’s your practice regimen?

I am a music teacher at the Grand Street Campus so my job enables me to play my instrument. I warm up and play the solo while my students are warming up for class or after the school day is done. In a way it motivates the students because they can see what is possible through efficient practice. I only play for 20 minutes on days I don't have rehearsal. I play in various rehearsals for six hours a week including Monday nights. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

Science! I eat a banana. A college professor told me the potassium helps with anxiety.

Any good luck charms?  

I always wear a ring that belonged to my mother, may she rest in peace. I play for her and the memory of her warm and inspirational spirit. She spent her last days at Grand Street listening to the music of the Metropolitan Music Community--she never missed one concert throughout the 15 years I've been playing the clarinet. 

Solo Spotlight: Lena Barsky's Wild Ride

Grand Street Community Band is tackling a roster of demanding works for MMC's March 20th concert Modern Wind SymphonyTwo pieces this cycle feature huge (and hugely challenging!) clarinet solos, and GSCB musicians Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson have boldly stepped up to the music stand!  


First up, Lena Barsky, who will be performing the wild and wacky clarinet solo in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. Lena is a relative newcomer to GSCB--she joined the group in September after moving to New York last May. Her first foray with the MMC was band camp at French Woods, which she says she attended "on a bit of a whim."

"I'm a huge band nerd, which means that seeing an email with the phrase, "Do you want to go to band camp?" filled my heart with joy," she said. "And I'm so glad that I did, because everyone was so welcoming and so talented! Joining GSCB has probably been The Highlight of my Very Special First Year in NYC." 

Lena has dived right in, tackling the lengthy and enormously technical clarinet solo in Asphalt Cocktail. She shared her thoughts on the part, her practice regimen and how she keeps those nerves at bay!

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Ohhhhh geeze" and then, after a second, "OHHHHHH NOOOOO, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO PLAY THIS IN FRONT OF PEOPLE." I mean, this is far and away the hardest solo I've ever had to play, including the pieces I performed at my college senior recital! It's hyper-exposed, really fast, and filled with accidentals that aren't exactly easy to play in succession, so I was pretty intimidated. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

There's this really great part at measure 89, fairly early on into the solo, where Mackey takes the original theme of "da-da-DAT-da-da-DAT-DAT-DAT" (it'll make sense when you hear it, I promise!) and riffs on it, then the part gets really schmeary with several long glissandos, almost like that classic Benny Goodman sound or the opening clarinet lick from Rhapsody in Blue. Getting to play around with my sound in such an unregulated, over-the-top way -- the part literally reads "Dramatic Sighs" -- is REALLY FUN and is something that you don't really find in more traditional wind band music.

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

*dramatic hair flip* Getting to SHOW OFF how GREAT I sound, OBVIOUSLY. No, no, no, I'm totally kidding. I'm not really sure! This Asphalt Cocktail solo is actually giving me a fair amount of stress because the rest of the band is working so hard and playing their hearts out on a song that's supremely difficult, and I don't want to let anybody down. Given that, I think what's great is similar to what I said above -- that I get to have fun with this part for a few lines and kind of jam out on my own. 

What’s your practice regimen?

Definitely rehearsing every day! Otherwise there's no way my fingers would have all the wacky accidentals down. When I first found out I'd be playing the solo I went home and listened to those specific measures of Asphalt Cocktail several times, to really cement the timing and pacing and to understand what the rest of the band is doing while I'm fighting to hold on to such a wild part. I like the old standby of "run a really tough part a bunch of times slowly, then gradually up the tempo." My college clarinet teacher was also really big on using different rhythms to cement the notes in long runs, which for this solo (and Asphalt Cocktail as a whole) is crucial. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

CROSS MY FINGERS AND HOPE EVERYTHING WORKS OUT! No, again, kidding... kind of. ;) I take a lot of deep breaths, drink a lot of water, review the hardest passages slowly, check the really high notes to make sure my reed is working, and then visualize myself KICKING BUTT. I've also been known to sing a lot of Queen to pump myself up. 

Any good luck charms?  

I wear the same set of necklaces and rings on a day-to-day basis, so I make sure that I'm wearing them for the solo, too. It's as if the magic of the solo has been embedded in the jewelry! And usually over the course of practicing for the solo I've figured out my ~*~Magic Lucky Solo Reed*~*, so I make sure that I use that reed during the concert.  

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

David Gould Takes His Chances

David Gould.jpg

By Alyssa Pry

When David Gould discusses his career as a professional clarinetist, it’s not through the boasting character of a Julliard-trained musician who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater or on Broadway (…to name a few.) There are no great proclamations of ego, no vanity, no arrogance. 

Instead, Gould is acutely aware of the string of small moments of luck and happenstance, combined with his talent, that have built his illustrious career; those eye-opening moments of clarity that, yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is worth the work I’m putting in.

“Things started happening one thing at a time,” Gould said. “These things added up to these moments that continued to validate it for me.”

As a professional clarinetist, Gould has an impressive roster of accomplishments: playing with the New York Philharmonic; as third clarinetist with American Ballet Theater; in Broadway shows like West Side Story and On the Town. On Sunday, he will join the Brooklyn Wind Symphony to perform Michael Markowski’s clarinet concerto Unfamiliar Territory.

[It’s] a chance to discover new music, to play as a soloist, to meet new people, to play in a new ensemble, to see a new part of Brooklyn,” Gould said about performing with BKWS. “That’s really for me, some of the things that are great about it.”

But Gould’s journey to the Grand Street High School stage on Sunday afternoon has not been a straight one of success.  Rather, the twists and turns of Gould’s musical path started even before he picked up a clarinet. As a child, Gould’s parents encouraged him and his two older brothers to learn an instrument, and Gould assumed he’d play the trumpet, like his “cool older brother.”

“My father said, no, why don’t you play the clarinet? This was a point when he was listening to a lot of Artie Shaw and Bennie Goodman, and he loves music of that era,” Gould said. “And I was like, ‘um, I don’t know.’ And we were actually at an antique car show and flea market and he bought a clarinet and gave it to me.”

Gould became more serious about playing throughout high school, performing in honors ensembles, and was then accepted to Julliard, where the idea of becoming a professional musician started to move closer to reality.

“I always thought all along that I would be a teacher, because that seemed like the best thing,” he said. “And when I got accepted to Julliard, I think that’s when it started to percolate.”

After graduating, Gould accepted a grant to study in France, where he lived for three years. He then took a job working with the French reed and mouthpiece company, Vandoren, where he still works today. But Gould described a time early in his career when he really started to question if it was all going to work. 

“I think that any good musician always has to question, am I on the right track?" 

“I was really going through a lot. I wasn’t making enough money, and was starting to think about it—maybe it’s better to get rid of this,” Gould said. “I was getting kind of depressed, [thinking] I can’t do this; all this stuff rolling around my head.”

But then, another chance moment that suddenly set the wheels spinning forward—a phone call from an old friend, looking for players for a high school production of West Side Story.

“I came home that night after that first rehearsal, and I get a phone call from a guy I’ve known and he said, “Would you be interested in subbing on West Side Story, on the Broadway revival,’” Gould recalled. “It was kind of hilarious. I went, you’re not going to believe this [but] I just rehearsed with a friend’s high school! And I probably played that [show] 150 times and loved every second of it." 

For Gould, it was exactly what he needed. 

“It got me playing more often and opened up some other doors, and reminded people that I still existed,” Gould said with a laugh.

 Another moment of ­­surprise: his opportunity to play with the New York Philharmonic.

“I can still remember the first time—the firsts are always what stick with you. I was playing at City Center; I remember the middle of the dress rehearsal, I got a text from a friend, ‘Hey are you around? I wanted to see if you wanted to play with the New York Philharmonic,’” Gould recalled. “And it was like walking on air!”

Gould has taken these successes and challenges as motivation, and has an appreciation for what it has taken to get where he is today.   

“I think that any good musician always has to question, am I on the right track? That should continue to push you to strive for better things.”

His passion for performance is something he says he sees working with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, an experience he says has been inspiring to him.

“It’s really going to the root of amateur—loving to do what they do. People are doing this because they want to be here. Here there’s a real passion,” he said.

Performing Unfamiliar Territory has been a departure from the classical repertoire Gould plays in his professional life, and he’s enjoying the change of pace.

“It's contemporary music you want to listen to and play—it’s rare,” he said of the piece. “You look at it and it looks very black and white. [Then] you’re playing it, and there’s melody, but it really feels like you’re setting up a mood.”

“There’s going to come a point where you’re going to have to learn to let go.”

Gould has worked closely with composer Michael Markowski in preparation for Sunday’s concert, and will also be performing the concerto when the Brooklyn Wind Symphony records Markowski’s music next month.

Gould had some words of advice for Markowski, drawing on his experiences producing his own recording project, The Forgotten Clarineta collection of lesser-known French works for clarinet and piano. 

“There’s going to come a point where you’re going to have to learn to let go,” he told Markowski. “It’s limitless what one can do, but after a while, it’s going to start to lose the spontaneity and magic.”

Gould seems to be following his own advice, allowing moments and opportunities to shape his career, ultimately recognizing them as a chance to share his talent and love for playing.

“That’s our goal," Gould said.  "Ultimately as a performer, we’re there to interpret the music and also really steward the music to other people.”

Jeffrey Hodes Takes the Stage—Preparing Maslanka’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble

By Alyssa Pry

Talking to Jeffrey Hodes, the principal clarinetist for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, you’re immediately struck by his excitement and enthusiasm for just about, well, everything. Over the course of our interview, we discussed his job as a software engineer at Google: “I freaking love computer science”; discovering the Brooklyn Wind Symphony after a friend encouraged him to join: “That’s awesome, I found a good group!”; to his preparations for his performance of David Maslanka’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble:  “Playing a concerto is always super fun.” 

Hodes will be performing Maslanka’s concerto at the Brooklyn Wind Symphony’s “Postcards” concert on June 13th, before performing it with the group at the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) in July. While most people may find the prospect of playing a twenty-minute clarinet concerto in front of hundreds of people daunting, for Hodes, it’s simply an opportunity to continue to follow his passion for music. 

“I’m super happy with how I’ve ended up being able to play a lot of clarinet non-professionally,” Hodes said. “Brooklyn Wind Symphony is one of those high-level groups for non-professionals and it’s super fun that I get to play with them.” 

Hodes may not be professional clarinetist, but he’s managed to create a life where it plays a major part. He attended Princeton University and played with the Princeton University Orchestra and other chamber groups, an experience he describes with trademark enthusiasm as “a blast.” After graduating, he was offered a position at Google Headquarters in California, but chose the tech company's New York office, in part for the city’s unbeatable music scene. 

“I decided I wanted to live in New York instead, in no small part because of the music community here,” he said. “Not only are the best orchestras here, but as a non-professional, you can take lessons and practice and play with other great people,” he said. 

Hodes also performs with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, as well as in various chamber groups. The opportunity to play with BKWS involved a bit of happenstance and good timing—both he and BKWS clarinetist Sarah Cohen were subbing for players with the New York Doctor’s Symphony, and Cohen asked if he would be interested in joining her group.  

“I was like sure, because I was new to New York and was like, ‘I want to play in everything,’” he said.  

But what stuck with Hodes initially was not his immediate success within the ensemble, but an early chastisement from conductor Jeff Ball. 

“I was playing and I got told off by Jeff Ball for playing too loud in the first rehearsal,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a really good sign when you get told off in a rehearsal; that means the group is playing at a high enough level that your mistakes are noticeable and worth mentioning.”

And now, Hodes has the opportunity to play with the enthusiasm he had in that first rehearsal as he tackles Maslanka’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble. Written in 2014, there have been no published recordings of the piece, which gives Hodes the opportunity to explore and interpret it in his own way. 

“This is the classic question—when you’re reading a poem, should you care what the author’s intent was or should you read it however you want? [Maslanka] wrote it, but we’re performing it,” Hodes said.  “And part of the fun of being a musician is interpreting the music and playing it in an interesting or compelling way.”

For Hodes, that’s meant looking at the piece as a whole, and how he fits into it within the context of the ensemble. 

“It’s an interesting piece. Unlike a lot of concertos, where it’s a solo line, and then goes back to the orchestra and they never really step over the soloist, [here] the instruments are playing with the soloist or playing in direct harmony,” he explained. “It’s really about the clarinet and one or two other sections at any given moment. It’s a very active collaboration with people in the band.” 

But working towards a high level of performance has meant daily practices for Hodes, often in some unexpected places. 

“I am definitely practicing this every day. [And] I’ll do weird stuff—because I don’t want to get noise complaints at my apartment, I’ll walk back to my office at midnight if I don’t have anything else to do and practice for 2-3 hours,” he said. 

Aside from working out the technical elements of the piece, Hodes’ goal is to feel confident in his playing.  

“With a concerto, you obviously have to practice a lot so you’re confident. From my experience, if I’m like, ‘I got this,’ then I won’t get too nervous,” he said.  

And if mistakes happen?  

 “You have to keep in mind—the audience isn’t waiting for you to mess up so they can go, ‘Oh! He messed up! What a loser!’” Hodes said. “They’re here to listen to it, but if you miss a note, everyone understands.” 

Hodes’ laid-back attitude towards playing has kept him grounded and calm during his practice and preparation, but if David Maslanka decides to make an appearance to hear his performance of the challenging concerto, Hodes may have to deal with those nerves after all.  

 “I think knowing that David Maslanka is in the audience might make me a little more nervous,” he said, laughing. “[But] I want him to think, ‘What a nice interpretation this group gave.’” 


Posted on June 19, 2015 .