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Learning Patterns, Not Notes

Clarinetist Hakan Rosengren, who plays Wednesday night at Cal State Fullerton, works hard at making the transposition from the page to the ear.


Scandinavia has come onto the musical map prominently since Esa-Pekka Salonen was appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1992.

A fellow Scandinavian is based here in Orange County: Clarinetist Hakan Rosengren, who has toured and recorded with Salonen and made nine recordings, began teaching at Cal State Fullerton in the fall of 1999.

He's been busy since then. His recital Wednesday will be his second at the university.

Rosengren, 37, was born in Halmstad, in southwestern Sweden, and grew up in the village of Steninge.

"There were 150 people there in the winter, 5,000 in the summer," Rosengren said in a recent phone interview from his home in Placentia.

The third of four children, he was the only one who became a professional musician, although all played instruments as kids.

His father, a dermatologist who died when Rosengren was 19, had an enormous classical and jazz record collection, which stimulated Rosengren's interest in music. But so did his mother, who sang in choirs.

"She must have sung [Bach's] 'The Passion of St. Matthew' 40 times," he said. "They did it every year."

He started playing recorder when he was 6, then took up the clarinet in fourth grade. He continued playing both instruments until he began to focus on the clarinet at the National Conservatory of Music in Stockholm.

"I thought I'd have a better chance to make a living," he said. "I also liked the dynamic aspect of the clarinet. The recorder is not that physical of an instrument."

He went on to study at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Belgium, and then, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, with Mitchell Lurie and Pacific Symphony principal James Kanter at UC Santa Barbara.

While there, he met his wife, musicologist Katherine Powers, who now also teaches at Cal State Fullerton.

Meanwhile, he continued to teach at the University of Akron, where he met his recital collaborator, Anne Epperson, head of the Collaborative Pianist Program at Cleveland Institute of Music.

"We developed this program where my students played with her students," Rosengren said. "They went up to CIM and got coaching. Hers came down to Akron and got coaching there. Then Anne and I played a few concerts together. And we continued to do that."

They took the program they're doing at Fullerton to Israel over the Christmas holidays, despite the political and social unrest there.

"I don't like to cancel things," Rosengren said. "If the commercial planes fly, I fly."

Their program Wednesday will include works by Andre Messager, Stravinsky, Poulenc and Brahms. Messager might be the unfamiliar name there.

"For about 100 years, students at the Paris Conservatory wrote examination pieces," Rosengren said. "Most of them are not much more than student pieces, but Messager's 'Solo de concours' is really charming, with really beautiful melodic material."

Rosengren finds teaching rewarding for several reasons.

"When you teach students, you really start reflecting on what it is that makes something beautiful or expressive," he said. "You have to explain what makes [someone's playing] so dull and square even if it has beautiful tone and all the right notes.

"Teaching also makes you find solutions that you may never have thought of if you hadn't taught."

Rosengren and Epperson will be making a CD of French repertory for the Round Top label. Rosengren has been an artist at the Round Top (Texas) summer festival for the past four years and will go back this summer.

Other recordings he has made include a disc of works by Messiaen, Schoenberg and Martinu, and Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto on a disc of that composer's music played by the Swedish Radio Symphony led by Salonen.

Rosengren made his debut with that orchestra playing the concerto in 1985.

Rosengren has an avid interest in new music and has had works written for him by Dane Poul Ruders, Swedes Anders Eliasson and Jan Sandstrom, and American Stephen Hartke.

Yes, the music can be hard.

"Everything takes an effort," he said. "You want to take everything that is there [on the page] and bring it out. Making the transposition from the page to the ear always takes an effort in some ways."

One way to do that is to memorize the music, but he doesn't mean memorizing notes.

"What you really memorize is the patterns of the form," he said. "So if you have a phrase of 50 notes, it's not the 50 notes you memorize. It's the pattern of that 50-note phrase.

"It's easy to read from the page and really not learn the music. Leaving the page ensures you know the music."


Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at


Hakan Rosengren will play works by Messager, Stravinsky, Poulenc and Brahms on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall at Cal State Fullerton, Nutwood Avenue and State College Boulevard. Anne Epperson will be the pianist. $8. (714) 278-3371.

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