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 Clarinet, a 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.”