Soloist to liven Copland’s Clarinet Concerto at Vallejo Symphony concerts – The Vacaville Reporter

The clarinet has a soft, almost hollow sound, alternately cold and bright, with a dynamic range more remarkable than that of other woodwinds, possessing a captivating sound color in its lowest octave.

When we think of the clarinet and its unique sound, our minds may turn to a recording of Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” or a tune by Benny Goodman, for whom composer Aaron Copland, on commission, specifically wrote his Concerto for clarinet, completing it. in 1948. Goodman and the NBC Orchestra premiered it in 1950.

Approximately 17 minutes long, the concerto will be part of the Vallejo Symphony's programs, with principal clarinetist Todd Palmer as guest soloist, during the orchestra's concerts Jan. 13 and 14 at the Empress Theater.

A piece in two movements, the first is distinguished by its melancholy, somewhat jazzy sound, rooted in Brazilian folk music, with dramatic leaps for the clarinet and soft, rhapsodic tones accompanied by strings and harp. A cadenza serves as a bridge between the first and second movements, the latter marked by lively rhythms, adapted to Goodman's swinging technique, and by the introduction of brief piano sequences. The music almost turns into a dance before ending, with a sound of lament, as Palmer will do, on the clarinet, underlined by a glissando, or (in jazz) a “frotti”.

“I’ve played it at least a dozen times,” Palmer, 63, said of the concerto in an interview Sunday from his home on New York’s Upper West Side. “It is certainly one of the most popular clarinet concertos.”

A native of Hagerstown, Maryland, he first performed it in Washington, D.C., “the day before I debuted at the Kennedy Center the following afternoon,” he recalls, noting that he won an audition with the Young Concert Artists organization.

Since then, having lived his entire adult life in New York, Palmer, a three-time Grammy Award nominee, has performed as a soloist, recitalist, chamber music collaborator, educator, arranger and presenter of musical performances throughout the world.

Clarinetist Todd Palmer performed at Carnegie Hall earlier in his long career as a classically trained musician.  (Courtesy photo/Todd Palmer)
Clarinetist Todd Palmer performed at Carnegie Hall earlier in his long career as a classically trained musician. (Courtesy photo/Todd Palmer)

As a soloist, with symphonies and chamber orchestras, he has appeared in ensembles from Houston and Atlanta to Cincinnati and Montreal, and has performed at Carnegie Hall and the 92nd Street Y in New York. He has collaborated with famous artists and groups, including the St. Lawrence and Pacifica string quartets and sopranos Kathleen Battle, Renee Fleming and Dawn Upshaw.

Palmer championed and recorded Osvaldo Golijov's klezmer clarinet quintet, “The Dreams and Prayers of Blind Isaac” and commissioned Ricky Gordon's stage work, “Orpheus and Euridice,” presented by Great Performers at the Lincoln Center. He also premiered David Bruce's “Gumboots” at Carnegie Hall and appeared as a soloist in director Robert La Page's “The Nightingale and Other Fables” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

He gave the world premiere of “Crosswalk,” a new work for clarinet and dance created especially for him by renowned choreographer Mark Morris. And he also worked with, in addition to Golijov, the composers Thomas Ades, Mason Bates and Ned Rorem.

This may come as a surprise to some, but even as a classically trained musician, Palmer helps pay his rent through his work on Broadway. He is currently part of the pit orchestra for a cover of “Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim. His other Broadway credits include revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein's “South Pacific” and “The King and I,” Schonberg's “Les Miserables,” Lloyd Webber's “Sunset Boulevard” and Lerner and Loewe's “My Fair Lady.”

Theater work, he says, “is a slice of bread and a few pats of butter” and has been part of his life for 15 years, on and off. Her acting for “Sweeney Todd” began in March and will continue until May of this year.

“I love being in the pit with a conductor,” Palmer said, adding, “It’s a very positive environment.”

He praised Morris's “Crosswalk,” a piece with which he toured the world for two years, calling the choreographer “a true artist.”

Palmer managed to attend the Grammy Awards because Golijov's klezmer clarinet quintet was nominated for two honors. He called the composer a “long-time friend.”

For Gordon's “Orpheus and Euridice,” more than 20 years ago, he contacted the composer to write a work specifically for clarinet. Palmer had originally intended the piece to be shorter than the hour-long work it eventually became.

“I was truly speechless,” he recalls, saying: “The inspiration came to him in the middle of the night. What’s really amazing is that it stayed on the shelves for 10 years. Very few sopranos would watch him. Finally, he approached the right soprano.

“It was a gigantic production,” Palmer said of the 2005 theatrical work. “A dance company was involved” and when it opened at Lincoln Center, it won an Obie Award, an Off- Broadway similar to a Tony for a Broadway show.

“Then other people became interested in the film, and it went to Long Beach, where it was staged around a swimming pool,” he said. “It was so popular that the production went to Chicago,” where it was performed twice.

Palmer constantly reminds himself “how lucky he is” to do what he loves and “to have music in my life.”

“I wasn’t supposed to do anything else,” he said. “I was carried away by the winds, from one musical adventure to another. It is a source of great joy for me.

Conductor Marc Taddei, center, will conduct the Vallejo Symphony in Gershwin's work. "An American in Paris" and Bizet's Symphony in C, as well as Copland's Clarinet Concerto, in two concerts on January 13 and 14 at the Empress Theater.  (Contributed photo/VSO)
Conductor Marc Taddei, center, will conduct the Vallejo Symphony in Gershwin's “An American in Paris” and Bizet's Symphony in C, as well as Copland's Clarinet Concerto, in two concerts on March 13 and 14 January at the Empress Theater. (Contributed photo/VSO)

Part of the Vallejo Symphony's 2023-24 Gershwin Series, “Gershwin! A Jazz Genius”, this second of three concerts of the season, led by conductor Marc Taddei, is nicknamed “An American in Paris”. It features Gershwin's classic work, with its impressions of street noise and big city ambiance, inspiring a 1951 film of the same name.

For the second part of the concert, the audience will hear Georges Bizet's Symphony in C, written in 1855 at the age of 17, which owes a sonic debt to Gounod and ends with a storm of colorful notes.

The symphony's third concert in the series, “Porgy and Bess,” will take place April 20 and 21 and will feature soprano Tiffany Austin singing classic Gershwin songs arranged by Russell Garcia, written for legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald and jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong in 1959. The program will be presented in a semi-stage production alongside members of Verismo Opera.

“This will undoubtedly be one of the largest and most unusual musical events in the Bay Area this season,” symphony spokesman Tim Zumwalt said in a prepared statement last year.

The pre-concert talks, “Meet the Music,” are presented an hour before each orchestra performance and feature conversations between Taddei and guest artists, providing insight into the program, Zumwalt added.

Vallejo Symphony can be heard on the radio, KZCT-FM 89.5, and the remaining concerts will be broadcast at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 26; and 10:30 a.m. on May 3.

Additionally, guest artists will appear in live interviews and program schedules will be posted on Facebook/VallejoSymphony.

What: Vallejo Symphony
When: 8 p.m. on January 13 and 3 p.m. on January 14
Or: Empress Theater, 330 Virginia St., Vallejo
Tickets: $50 to $80. Group tickets, with discounts for 10 or more people, are available
Phone: (707) 643-4441

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