'Space, Stillness and Beauty'

Jonathan Sage

'Space, Stillness and Beauty'

On Friday, 7 June, at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, the English clarinettist Jonathan Sage will perform with an expanded Ergodos Musicians, with both Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A and a new work by the Irish composer Garrett Sholdice on the programme. Sage will be performing on the basset clarinet — the instrument for which Mozart wrote his concerto in 1791 — and will be playing from his own edition of Mozart’s work. The Journal of Music talked to both Sage and Sholdice to find out more about the nature of their collaboration, and the music they will bring to Dubliners’ ears.

Tickets cost €15/10 and include a free glass of wine. For more information see here.

Jonathan Sage, clarinettist

You’ve worked with the composer Garrett Sholdice on many occasions. How does your prior knowledge of his work change the way you approach the score?

I have performed a lot of Garrett’s music — both solo and ensemble pieces — and it has been fascinating to hear his style evolve. Constant features of his work are space, stillness and beauty, and this requires the performer to really engage with the music and get into the right ‘headspace’. On the face of it, this is very simple music, so without the right level of commitment, performances could be completely unconvincing. Having worked with Garrett so much before allows me to get to the crux of his music far more quickly.

How do you think your own playing style has affected Sholdice’s writing?

My working with Garrett goes back to when we were both students together and we have always had a close, collaborative working relationship. I think what I appreciate most is the way he considers so much about me, specifically as a player. For example, I am very strong when it comes to starting notes from niente [from nothing] as well as producing multiphonics. I also have a particular tone quality, developed from my studies with Alan Hacker and all of this is in Garrett’s mind when he writes for me. The very fact that Garrett has written for basset clarinet at all has come from years of working closely together. He wrote me a wonderful piece called Five Organa for Jonathan Sage back in 2008 and I think that preparatory exploration has really benefited this work.

What motivated you to create your own edition of the Mozart in the first place?

I have always wanted to properly document my own thoughts on the Mozart’s solo line and in a sense, an ‘edition’ has always been in my head. I have opinions — particularly in the third movement — which differ quite radically from other editions, so this is a very exciting opportunity to air these views to a wider audience.

What were some of the challenges in creating the edition?

The biggest challenge has been settling on one particular version of the solo line, as this is where there is most room for creativity. Because of the loss of the autograph score and the basset clarinet itself temporarily disappearing from history, there is no real certainty as to where the ‘basset’ notes should be used. Much of it is common sense, but there are other instances where it is loss obvious. I cannot think of any two performances of the concerto where I have made the same ‘choices’, so it has been a big challenge and has taken a lot of experimentation to reach final decisions for print.

Garrett Sholdice, composer

What is it about Jonathan Sage’s playing that inspires you to write for him?

There are technical things – the very focussed sound he produces, his facility with playing more than one tone simultaneously [multiphonics], his ability to shape a tone that grows gradually in volume from silence. But more than these qualities, even, it’s his formidable musicality. He possess a kind of musicianship that transcends style, and allows him to advocate diverse kinds of music in a way that is very personal and very compelling.

How, in your eyes, does your work Am Obersee relate to Mozart’s concerto?

I think of it in terms of a painting metaphor: the basic palette of colours is the same for both works, but the brushwork is different. I am simply continuing a practice of using these colours to create art. There’s no anxious discourse, no negation — just celebration through continuity.

How did you go about constructing the piece?

I had no plan, really. In the last year or so I’ve been trying to work more and more intuitively, and less and less with pre-conceived elements. The basic material of the piece emerged very quickly. I moved forward with it, turning, blending, stripping back — just trying to listen intensely to what felt right. I tried to compose one note after the other — like we hear music unfold — rather than having an overview and pre-planning certain events in time.

What kind of influence or input did Jonathan have into the final work?

This is actually the first ‘solo’ piece I’ve done for Jonathan where we haven’t workshopped extensively. This was due to geographical constraints, but actually, I realise now it wasn’t necessary. Jonathan’s way of playing — the intense focus of his tone, the way he shapes a tone from nothing, his sense of line — is engrained in my aural imagination at this stage. When I imagine a clarinet, I imagine Jonathan’s sound, I think.

What, to you, is the attraction in placing your work in a historical context as well as using a historical medium?

I love the potential for intimacy of the Classical concerto medium. It’s possible to really focus in and create very transparent ‘chamber music’ textures as well as more enveloping ‘orchestral’ atmospheres. And, I think, solo soliloquies [in a concerto] can become more charged than in totally solo pieces — because they can sit in relief to something else. In pairing my work with the Mozart concerto, I hope to intensify the experience of both works for the audience.


Garrett Sholdice: Am Obersee from Ergodos on Vimeo.

Published on 30 May 2013

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