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Classical 101

Thomas Ades' Catch and the Traveling Clarinet

ONE AUDIO PIECE: MUSIC You may know the story of Franz Joseph Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony, but it's a fun one that bears repeating, so here goes: Haydn's patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, liked to summer at his country estate, Esterhaza, far away from the din and smog of the city. When the prince left for the summers, he took his whole entourage with him, including his orchestra, which Haydn directed. The orchestra's musicians, who had left their families back in town for the summer sojourn, thought the summer of 1772 was getting a little long. So they kvetched to Papa Haydn and found a sympathetic ear. Haydn composed a symphony whose final movement calls for the orchestra musicians to exit the stage a few at a time while playing, leaving only two violinists on stage to bring the work to a close. Haydn's "farewell" gimmick might be the most famous example of a classical work whose spatial dimension in performance is as meaningful as the notes on the score, but it wasn't the last. Contemporary composer Thomas Adès' work Catch (1991) has a fun, almost comical itinerant clarinetist, along with all the interesting tone colors and unusual texture of the very best new music. A cellist, a pianist, and a violinist begin the piece on stage with a brilliant sound world: [audio:ades_catch.mp3] The three carry on until the clarinetist enters from backstage and runs across the stage and through the ensemble. On the clarinetist's third sprint, the ensemble ensnares him (or her), and the onstage trio becomes a foursome. I do not know whether Adès intended the traveling clarinet to be cute or humorous, but in my view it is both. Here's a video of the Grammy Award-winning contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird rehearsing the piece (to the clicking of a metronome) back in 2008. Just tell me this isn't fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAI6_6s9_8Y The interesting thing about the runaway clarinet is how open the idea is to interpretation in performance. Depending on whatever instructions the composer may have included in the score, the musician could walk, jog, or presumably skip across the stage. He could move along the front lip of the stage or the very back. He could wear a strange costume or, presumably, nothing at all.  The possibilities are endless. Let your thoughts run (no pun intended) wild. So when Chamber Music Columbus and eighth blackbird bring Thomas Adès' Catch to Columbus' Southern Theatre April 17, you'll hear music with a unique and beautiful vocabulary of sounds and an endless capacity for fun. Welcome to the new Esterhaza.