Wednesday evening, two of Columbus’ own will perform the world premiere of 10 new musical masterpieces—and Columbus gets to see and hear it first.
In a concert called “Jeanjean on the Rocks,” David Thomas, principal clarinetist of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Mariko Kaneda will play 10 of French composer Paul Jeanjean’s 18 Études de Perfectionnement (1927) for clarinet with brand-new piano accompaniments commissioned by Thomas and composed by Philadelphia-based composer Joseph Hallman.
The music begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 12 in the Green Room of the Short North’s Garden Theater, as part of the New Music at Short North Stage series. Cocktails will be available at Ethel’s Lounge in the Garden Theater starting at 6 p.m.
The hour-long recital represents the culmination of a project Thomas launched in 2016 to commission piano accompaniments for the etudes—unaccompanied clarinet study pieces meant originally for practice, not performance, but which, Thomas says, represent “the pinnacle of difficulty” for clarinetists.
"They're just cool pieces."
Although Paul Jeanjean isn’t a household name today, listeners who heard Thomas and Kaneda perform a few of the etudes with accompaniments in informal house concerts during the last year have heard echoes of a variety of styles inspired by more familiar composers.
“One of the pieces they said sounded sort of like Scott Joplin,” Thomas says. “Another one they said sounded like Chopin; another one somebody said sounded a little like Prokofiev. There’s also another one that I even suggested may be like a Khachaturian waltz. And these are all composers that most of us know and most of us enjoy. Definitely there’s a new, fresh view to the accompaniments that Jeanjean would not have imagined.”
Thomas’ original idea to add piano accompaniment parts for the etudes was intended to raise the etudes from their status as pieces confined to the practice room to the level of concert works clarinetists could perform in public concerts.
"They’re just cool pieces; they’re fun to listen to," Thomas told Classical 101 last May. "And because of that, I hope that more clarinetists wake up to using these as legitimate repertoire, certainly in recitals, in public performances."
As Classical 101 also reported, Thomas learned of Hallman and his music on Twitter, and invited him to write the piano parts for 10 of the etudes in Jeanjean’s collection. Thomas also used social media to help raise awareness for his project by posting video recordings of his performances of a few of the etudes and their new accompaniments on YouTube, and to help raise funds to defray the commissioning fees of performing two house concerts in Columbus during 2016. He raised additional funds through a crowdfunding campaign on youcaring.com.
Above: David Thomas and pianist Virginia Lum play the first of Jeanjean's Études de Perfectionnement with composer Joseph Hallman's piano accompaniment.
"So rich in musicality"
Although Thomas has been able to raise funds to defray some of the expense of commissioning the accompaniment parts, he also notes the project has so far received surprisingly little interest among professional clarinetists worldwide. One reason could be the etudes’ relative obscurity, even among aspiring professional clarinetists.
“While these are etudes that most clarinetists know, they aren’t necessarily the first ones teachers go to, to get their students to advance their playing,” Thomas said. “People tend to sort of teach what they learned, and they’re not taught all that much by very many teachers,” possibly, Thomas says, because they’re so technically and musically challenging.
Hallman suggests there might be a conceptual barrier to understanding these etudes as not just fodder for the practice room, but as legitimate concert works.
“If you did know them and you were sort of raised on playing them as etudes, that you might not think of them so much as concert pieces, or potentially even as music,” Hallman said. “But in fact they’re so rich in musicality and concertworthiness.”
“I can only think that people’s concept of something changes very slowly, and most clarinetists don’t see these as concert etudes, so therefore even when somebody else does see them that way, they don’t necessarily see it that way,” Thomas said. “It would take their teachers promoting them that way, and their teachers weren’t raised to think of them that way either, so the system just keeps perpetuating itself in the fact that these etudes are just etudes and they’re not meant to be performed in public.”
"I don't see them as etudes anymore."
How professional clarinetists view Jeanjean’s etudes might be changing, though. The international clarinet soloist Charles Neidich has recorded Jeanjean’s 18 Études de Perfectionnement in their original unaccompanied clarinet versions.
“(Neidich) is a well-known soloist, so it gives them legitimacy as pieces—etudes or concert pieces that should be worked on—and there’s a concept of how to play them that he offers. So hopefully they will be noticed a little bit more now,” Thomas said.
With all 10 of Hallman’s piano accompaniments finished and their formal unveiling in Columbus right around the corner, Thomas and Hallman say they would like the etudes with accompaniments to be recorded and the accompaniments to be published.
And with the etudes and their new accompaniments now ready for the concert stage, Thomas wants to help them meet other musicians who can help their careers.
“It would just really make my day if somebody else would ask to perform a few of them in concert,” Thomas said. “That’s my goal. Just to get them performed a little bit more. The more I play them, the more I realize how melodious and quite beautiful they are. I don’t see them as etudes anymore.”