A Look into the Professional Life of Wesley Ferreira
The Contemporary Clarinet - Concept
"I have conceived the program this evening to flow… from beginning to end, with each piece serving much like a
scene as in theatre. Rather than witnessing Wesley Ferreira performing the pieces, each piece will be performed by a different character. Each character rightly comes to perform the music with his own influences and ideas… each piece is performed in a different time and place. I’m drawing inspiration from contemporary music’s ability to thwart expectations, to present audiences with the unexpected.
The visual aspect then, will match the aural one."
"As performers on stage we give so much of ourselves, and
we should aspire to feel comfortable enough as artists to do this."
- Wesley Ferreira
The Contemporary Clarinet - PreConcert Talk (in its entirety)
I want to thank you for coming out to this pre-concert talk. It’s an opportunity for me to speak to you regarding my thoughts on contemporary music and to provide context for the recital that I’m about to perform, shortly.
A little background…
At the beginning of the 20th century, composers of classical music were experimenting with an increasingly dissonant pitch language. This began to yield atonal works, that its, pieces without a tonal center. Following WWI, as a backlash against what was seen as the increasingly exaggerated gestures and lack of form of late romanticism, some composers began to adopted what was termed a neoclassic style, which sought to recapture the balanced forms and clear thematic processes of earlier styles. Following WWII, modernist composers sought to achieve even greater levels of control in their compositional process, seen through the use of 12 tone technique and later total serialism. At the same time, conversely, composers were also experimenting with a means of abdicating control, exploring indeterminacy or aleatoric processes in smaller or larger degrees. Technological advances led to the birth of electronic music. Experimentation with tape loops and repetitive textures contributed to the advent of minimalism. Still, other composers started exploring the theatrical potential of the musical performance.
Today, composers are influenced by a variety of styles and periods including the influence of popular music.
All of the works on my program this evening have been influenced by the compositions of these earlier periods. More specifically, the works have been influenced by the composers and performers of these earlier periods. I want to acknowledge this because for me, performing contemporary music is about being an active participant in the evolution and sometimes revolution of classical or western art music. The relationship between composers and other individuals, often performers or impresarios who lived and worked in contemporary times have yielded some of the greatest works we have come to know.
On purpose, the only notes that I have included in the program this evening is a definition of the word contemporary. Simply, “contemporary” means - “happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same period of time”. “Marked by characteristics of the same time period”. Finally, “belonging to, or occurring in the present”. All of the pieces on the program were composed during my lifetime, all of the composers and alive and active, as are all of the performers for which these works were composed.
We live in the 21st century, in an age were new music is easily accessible and readily available… a time where new compositions are constantly being written and new ideas are being shared faster than ever before. While the masterworks of earlier centuries will always be popular amongst audiences, as performing musicians, must be very careful not to not become museum curators, because our art is currently alive and constantly growing.
My take is that music, like any other art form has the most meaning to the individual when it is internalized. The power of music is when one becomes so entranced by it, swallowed up by it… you are truly living in the moment. Which makes me think of the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “the piano man” … “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the manager gives me a smile, ‘cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see, to forget about life for a while.”
I think about this each time I get on stage to perform. I aim to give audiences an experience. Something out of the ordinary. An experience that gets them to think of nothing other than what is in the present.
I will acknowledge that there are some contemporary compositions that requires you to listen in a different way.
The music of the traditional Bach-to-Brahms repertoire operates with familiar elements: major and minor keys; motifs, melodies, and themes; chord progressions; familiar forms like sonata or rondo; and ways of playing instruments and using sounds that we have learned to recognize.
One of the ways in which contemporary music often differs is that any or all of these familiar elements may be missing.
So, how do you listen to contemporary music?
I like to listen for textures and colors. I try to feel the mood or energy of the piece. Music, all music, is made up of relationships between a number of elements. It’s organized in some way. In fact this is a good definition for music, first offered to us by composer Edgar Varese…. “music is organized sound.” It’s either organized by the composer ahead of time, and/or by the listener as he or she internalizes it. This is not to say that all contemporary music is devoid of melody or a recognizable formal structure.
I believe that the avant-guard compositions of the 20th century, often inaccessible to the majority of listeners, created a stigma around the words, “contemporary”, “new music”, and even “world premiere”. I think that more and more, nowadays, people are starting to disassociate negative experiences with these terms.
I am given hope that modern audiences are also feeling more comfortable with the idea that not all music needs to be consumed in a similar way. Music does not always have to be pleasant to listen to. It does not always have to be pleasurable. Your experience listening to music can draw upon a number of negative emotions, such as loss, fear, or worry. Perhaps you might experience these tonight.
I wanted to hold this pre-concert talk in order to provide some historical context to the extended techniques that you will be hearing coming out of this clarinet.
After WWII, beginning in the early to mid 1950s, composers began researching into extending the technique of traditional acoustic instruments. Enthusiastic performers were equally committed to expanding the technical possibilities of their instruments. As as evolution followed Schoenberg and his students breaking with tonality, a new found freedom of musical language led to newly invented forms and structures... and the idea of infinite possibilities. In the clarinet field, one of the earliest enthusiasts and still the most influential figure of new music techniques is William O. Smith. A known American jazz and classical clarinetist, he studied composition with Milhaud. Upon hearing Berio’s Sequenza I for flute in the late 1950s, he began to experiment himself with a variety sounds, composing a piece entitled Variants in 1963. Variants is in six movements and contains a variety of extended techniques (timbre trills, multiphonics, singing while playing, key clicks, flutter-tonguing, glissandi, etc). William O. Smith also developed a muiltiphonics fingering chart and explanatory introduction to the work which served to explain the performance of the new techniques. His muiltiphonic fingering chart for the clarinet was and continues to be used by composers and performers. Smith has done more to standardize extended clarinet notation and techniques than any other single composer or performer. Another individual is Eric Mandat, who has composed numerous works and has developed his own microtone finger chart and has also expanded the use of contemporary techniques on the clarinet. The final two works on my program this evening by William O. Smith and Eric Mandat respectively, contain some really interesting extended clarinet techniques.
Let me now demonstrate a little of what you might hear.
Singing while playing
There are a few other extended techniques throughout pieces on the recital that I won’t give away.
I would only like to say a few things about the pieces themselves. The rest, I will leave to all of you listen openly and draw your own conclusions.
Invisible Duet’s full title is: “Invisible duet for instrument within range” meaning any instrument can play this piece so long as they have the capability to play within the range of the notated music. It was composed by an increasingly well-received swedish composer and my duet partner on the piece is clarinetist Martin Frost.
Sapphire Song is a contemplative work, written somewhat in the character of the traditional shakuhatich folk-art music of Japan. It is for the most part, completely written out, but it contains several passages of varying lengths in which the performer improvises on previous material. It was composed by a Canadian Donald Steven for my undergraduate teacher, Robert Riseling who did a one-week residency here at CSU in the fall.
Voices Rising is a work for clarinet positioned in between two pianos. With the pedals depressed the piano will catch the clarinet sound and resonant. It begins with a Medieval plainsong, with latin text from the 9th century. The chant is the basis for the entire work.
Epitaphs is composed by previously discussed William O. Smith, and as you will see and hear, the piece speaks for itself. You should know, that an Epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque. The word is derived from the Greek language and the Smith’s work has influences from ancient Greece as well.
Finally, Folk Songs. It is a five movement work with musical ideas of each movement based on various traditional folk songs. As you can see, each movement has very descriptive and aptly named titles. Each movement employs a technique that challenges the clarinetist’s technical capabilities. It is one of my favorite unaccompanied clarinet works because it employs a unique musical language within a cohesive framework of traditional forms, using intervalic and symmetrical structures that provides stability for both performer and audience.
I am really interested in the power of music to connect with people. I am also really interested in the relationship of music with other art forms. Opera and movies combine the aural with the visual and tend to draw in people more than most art forms. I am always conscious of the visual aspect of live performances. I am also always telling my students of the need to tell a story with their music. The story does not need to be “little johnny goes to the store to buy a gallon of milk” but it should be in a language that people can understand. As performers on stage we give so much of ourselves, and we should aspire to feel comfortable enough as artists to do this.
I have conceived the program this evening to flow… from beginning to end, with each piece serving much like a scene as in theatre. Rather than witnessing Wesley Ferreira performing the pieces, each piece will be performed by a different character. Each character rightly comes to perform the music with his own influences and ideas… each piece is performed in a different time and place. I’m drawing inspiration from contemporary music’s ability to thwart expectations, to present audiences with the unexpected. The visual aspect then, will match the aural one.
Feel free to wait and applaud following the final work on the program… or between pieces. And if the inspiration is there, do not to worry, I always enjoy those moments in concerts where there is spontaneous applause, sometimes in the “wrong moment” like between movements.
Thanks again for attending this pre-concert talk, I hope that you enjoy my forthcoming recital, and if you have any questions I would love the opportunity to speak to you following the recital.
Copyright 2020 - Wesley Ferreira. All Rights Reserved