If you've been waiting for a thousand clarinetists to come to town to wail out in chamber concerts, choir concerts, klezmer extravaganzas, jazz jams and seminars on topics such as "Taking the Voodoo out of Reedmaking," wow, are you in luck.
Just such a throng has descended on the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland College Park this week. They're here for ClarinetFest 2004, a five-day congregation of single-reed enthusiasts that continues through Sunday. It is the official conference of the International Clarinet Association (ICA), a gathering of professionals, scholars, students, amateurs and exhibitors.
Wednesday's offerings included the 15-piece British Clarinet Ensemble. With contrabass, bass, alto, B-flat and E-flat clarinets, the choir's sound reflected the range of a full orchestra using just this family of instruments.
Paquito D'Rivera's performance with the Airmen of Note, the big-band jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force Band, was a highlight of that first day. D'Rivera's round, woodsy tone and effortless technique glided over scales and riffs, never shrill but sometimes with bite. With his fine pianist Alon Yavnai and the phenomenal strength and artistry of the Airmen of Note, D'Rivera flowed through both jazz charts and serious classical numbers.
One of the most unusual features of the conference is the 90-piece ICA Clarinet Choir, performing Schubert's Symphony No. 5 on Sunday. It is guaranteed one will never hear this many clarinets play together again -- that is, until next year's ClarinetFest in Tokyo.
-- Gail Wein