Young Daniel McKelway wanted to keep playing the clarinet so badly, he didn't let losing some front teeth get in the way.
"I started studying with my main teacher, Robert Listokin, when I was 11 or 12, after I knocked some teeth out in a bike accident," recalled McKelway, who had picked up the instrument a year or so earlier. "He was so kind and warm and so inspirational, after I met him, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. There was no other path."
Now 28, and with his teeth intact, McKelway will be soloist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. The program, sponsored by the Philharmonic Society, will include Mozart's Symphony No. 29, Haydn's Symphony No. 47, Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra and Weber's Clarinet Quintet, as transcribed for clarinet and string orchestra.
The orchestration, McKelway says, "gives the piece remarkable color, a real richness which it doesn't quite have in the chamber version."
Weber wrote the work in 1825 for Heinrich Barmann, a Munich court virtuoso, with whom he toured.
"Barmann was the the first great clarinet virtuoso after Anton Stadler," McKelway said. "Stadler, though he was a great virtuoso, a fine musician and a friend of Mozart's, wasn't as serious about life and the clarinet and things to keep it going. After Mozart and Stadler died, there was not a tremendous number of people who commissioned works."
Weber, however, found himself inspired by Barmann's playing, as did Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, and wrote two clarinet concertos, a concertino and the clarinet quintet for him.
"What marks Weber's music, especially for the clarinet, is an incredible sense of drama and a brilliance. At the same time it's very operatic and charming. It gives you an opportunity to show what you can do, but always within a charming sound and very light."
Composed in the standard four-movement format, the Quintet is definitely written in a concerto style, McKelway says.
"It's not like Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, in which the clarinet is completely integrated into the work, except for one section. This is written as a showpiece for the clarinet."
McKelway has been playing showpieces since he won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York when he was 19. He grew up in North Carolina, the middle of three sons. He went to Boston to study with Harold Wright, principal clarinetist with the Boston Symphony, and married a cellist, who now works in music management.
Although he has been heard at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last month and Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena in 1991, McKelway is making his first tour this season with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
'We have the same management company," he explains. "John Aaron was bringing them over. I'm always looking for work. . . . The business is very complicated, and it's mysterious sometimes how things get worked out.
"Four or five things have to work in your favor to get a gig like this: having the same management company, having a group coming over looking for a soloist and willing to do your repertory, having presenters who are searching for a way to bring you back. And you have to have musical personalities which everybody believes will work together."