If you have the normal array of fingers on one hand, you can successfully count the composers of important works for clarinet and orchestra. "That's the dismal truth," said Michele Zukovsky with a sigh. "There's Mozart, Weber, Nielsen, Spohr, Copland." But all is not lost, noted the Los Angeles Philharmonic's principal clarinetist. There's something new on the horizon.
Well, something old, really.
At concerts by the Philharmonic led by Daniel Lewis this week at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Zukovsky will be soloist in the world premiere of Brahms' F-minor Clarinet Sonata, orchestrated by Luciano Berio. Though her part remains unchanged from the original, the clarinetist said, "it will be interesting to see how a modern Italian man looks at Brahms. It's as though Berio is interpreting the sonata by orchestrating it."
The work is a joint commission from the Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony and New York Philharmonic. According to Zukovsky, "There had been talk a year ago of a new concerto being written, but that didn't pan out. I have no idea why he picked this particular piece--I've had no communication with him."
Those familiar with Brahms' work may be a bit surprised by the start of the first movement, she said. It was not written by Brahms. "Berio wrote this wonderful 13-measure introduction that blends perfectly into the sonata.' "
Though the notes remain the same, Zukovsky "will have to make alterations in tempos and in how loud I play relative to the orchestra. There will be a lot of quick adjustments--probably some happening during the actual performance."
Is there a special thrill, suddenly occupying the spotlight? "I like it out front, but it can be pretty traumatic. Actually, there's something comfortable about sitting back in the section every day. The chair you sit in is the same, your sound is the same."
The clarinet has always been in Zukovsky's life--her father, Kalman Bloch, was a Philharmonic principal. "I wanted to play the cello, but clarinet lessons were cheaper." She was a mere 18 when she joined the Philharmonic.
Now a 25-year veteran with the orchestra , Zukovsky said she has worked tirelessly to add to the minuscule solo repertory for her instrument. "Every year I try to get commissions, even if I don't get to play the premiere. It's just a pet project of mine."
"I just wish we still had a Stravinsky or a Schoenberg around so I could approach them for a new piece. It irks me that Schoenberg used to live a block or so away from my house. I could have just strolled down and talked to him."
A LITTLE ROMANCE: While the Los Angeles Master Chorale opens its season this week with the profound and emotionally draining Verdi Requiem (see Page 51), the William Hall Chorale has decided to begin matters in a more earth-bound vein. "I decided it was time to get down to basics and do something beautiful," said Hall, who will lead his 120-voice chorus with only piano support at the opening concert in Ambassador Auditorium on Tuesday.
"We're going to do an evening of love songs from Mozart to Dello Joio, with an emphasis on the 19th Century. I thought about starting off with something big, but I realized that we've been neglecting the mini-masterpieces, such as Brahms' 'Neue Liebeslieder.' " Pianists Grant Gershon and Brent McMunn will assist.
Hall also pointed to a set of rarely heard songs by Mozart scored for three voices and an equal number of basset horns (clarinets will be used on Tuesday).
Such a program of small-scale works places a different burden on the conductor, he said. "In one big piece, such as the Verdi, you shape the music on a grand scale. Here, on the other hand, shaping is accomplished within a single measure. It's almost scary, offering music on such a small scale."
IN BRIEF: Arleen Auger heads the cast of Music Center Opera's first foray into the Baroque, a production of Handel's "Alcina," staged at the Wiltern Theatre three times this week, in conjunction with Opera Stage, London. Frank Corsaro directs this production, with Richard Hickox conducting the period-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.
Alicia de Larrocha will play the complete piano suite "Iberia" by Isaac Albeniz, Monday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, under Philharmonic auspices.