Who or what inspired you to take up the clarinet and pursue a career in music?

My mother was a woodwind teacher, so music was always in the house. She used to sit me at the piano in my highchair and I’d happily play away to myself as a baby. When I was potty trained, I asked for a recorder as my reward which I then learnt to play the same day. I could read music before I could write. I chose the clarinet because my arms weren’t long enough to play flute and I didn’t like the look of the curved head flute! I was six when I started clarinet and never really looked back.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been a few major influences who have really influenced and supported my career development.

The late flautist Sebastien Bell was Head of Woodwind at the Royal Academy of Music when I was a student. He understood my developing passion for contemporary music and bass clarinet and gave me a huge amount of encouragement to go my own way. I can’t thank him enough for that and he taught me so much about playing new music.

Whilst a student at the Royal Academy, I wrote to Czech bass clarinettist Josef Horak who developed the bass clarinet into a solo instrument in the 1950s. At that time I had little repertoire or knowledge of the bass clarinet world. He would send me piles of music, CDs, past concert programmes and set me off on the journey I am on today.

And of course, we have our godfather of bass clarinet Harry Sparnaay who died last year. I regret never studying with him, but the help and support I got from him whilst doing my PhD was just incredible. His influence lives on today in myself and all of my bass clarinet colleagues.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Specialising in contemporary music means that the greatest challenges appear several times a year and never stop arriving! It may be in a new work written for you that you have to master or an existing work that pushes your technique. I’ve had many moments of opening a score and thinking that I’d never in a million years be able to play the piece. Luckily I’ve been determined and it’s a great feeling to overcome these challenges and see works all the way to performance and recordings!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am the clarinettist with Northern Ireland’s Hard Rain Solist Ensemble. I’m incredibly proud to be in this ensemble which specialises in performing core contemporary repertoire and commissioning and promoting Northern Irish and Irish composers. Every one of the concerts we do is a massive achievement and it’s like a second family to be with.

I also work with my bass clarinet and piano duo SCAW and rarescale. I’ve recorded with both and love my work with both ensembles.

I just have a new recording of Strauss, Beethoven and Glinka works out on the Hyperion label. I know it’s surprised people as I’m playing clarinet on the CD. Recorded three years ago, it was at a different part of my career, but pushed my playing skills in a different way.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love contemporary music where you have to discover the music as you learn a piece. If you can find the music, untraditional phases, melodies, thematic material in such a piece and engage an audience in your interpretation, then I think that is mission accomplished. I love the music of composers such as Franco Donatoni. You can live with his music for years and it still keeps revealing new exciting secrets each time you play his pieces.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As a contemporary music specialist, your programme choices are often influenced by who is writing for you at the time. I’m recently working with composers writing for contrabass clarinet and these pieces will feature in future programmes along with currently unwritten works.

I also like to perform core contemporary music within a programme of music writen for me and always have projects of existing repertoire on the stand. I currently have Monolog, by Isang Yun for solo bass clarinet, Ombra for solo contrabass clarinet, by Franco Donatoni and Bug for solo clarinet, by Bruno Mantovani on the go.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I don’t think I have a favourite, but I enjoy playing in small and intimate venues and also in rural places where there is limited access to live music. I’ve had some fantastic experiences playing on small Scottish islands over the years.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gosh – that’s a hard question, as there are so many! I love all types of music and there are players in all genres I appreciate. I like musicians who are able to express emotion and a sense of enjoyment with their music. Be it a player like Pat Methany who plays from the heart, the jazz playing of bass clarinet greats like Eric Dolphy and Bennie Maupin who make you appreciate the bass clarinet for where the contemporary side has partly come from. And then of course, the late Harry Sparnnay, our godfather of bass clarinet for all he achieved and for just being the greatest bass clarinettist ever to live!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My first solo bass clarinet recital in the Purcell Room was special because it was a defining moment for me when I was being accepted in the UK for being a bass clarinettist. It was also one of the scariest concerts I’ve ever done as the repertoire of Donatoni, Cardew and Marc Yeats was some of the most difficult repertoire I’d ever performed and on a prestigious stage.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you find yourself and your direction as a player. As a bass clarinet specialist, it’s nice to be respected for what I do and to have people from all over the world contact me to ask questions or to ask to study with me. Publishing my multiphonic book was a special moment for me, because it was the final step in a huge project and enabled me to contribute to an area of bass clarinet development that needed clarification.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be yourself and follow your own ambition. Some players want to play in an orchestra, some want to play chamber music and some want to be soloists. Grab all the opportunities you can whilst studying and consider all the options. Being an orchestral player, a chamber musician, a soloist or a combination of all is great, but ultimately never be afraid to specialise if that is what you want to do.

Until around eighteen months ago, I was still under pressure to pursue orchestral auditions and yet, deep down I knew I didn’t want too. I love doing occasional orchestral work, but I love contemporary solo, chamber music and also my university and research work much more. At that recent point in my life, I dug my heels in and made some firm decisions about what I wanted and what was right for me, and have never been happier.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Hopefully still playing, premiering new works and teaching at university/conservatoire level. I teach at RNCM and am Director of Performance at Sheffield Univeristy, so I intend to work hard to develop both of these roles and courses. I’m also planning further research and want to write at least one more academic book.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting down somewhere on the Isle of Raasay, Scotland where I have a cottage and looking at the sea and views to Skye and appreciating the peace that comes with it. Sometimes the silence or simple sounds of nature is as great as music and is a very humbling experience that puts life into perspective.

What is your most treasured possession?

Two things! My cottage on Raasay. I purchased it ten years ago sight unseen on an island I’d never been too. It’s the best thing I ever did!

The other is my contrabass clarinet which is known as ‘the beast’. It’s been amazing to learn this instrument over the past year and to start to commission works for it.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m doing what I love to do which is playing contemporary music, teaching at Sheffield University and RNCM and preparing some research projects. I also have some fantastic contemporary music ensembles I play with. I’m very content knowing that I’ve achieved that.


Sarah Watts studied clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music with Angela Malsbury and Victoria Soames Samek (bass clarinet). Sarah then decided to specialise in the bass clarinet and continued her studies at the Rotterdam Conservatorium bass clarinet with Henri Bok, funded by the Countess of Munster Musical Trust and a Leverhulme Trust Studentship. Sarah was awarded the Exxon prize for the best classical music student in Rotterdam.

Successes include: Winner, UK Howarth Clarinet Competition 2000; Winner, Hawkes Clarinet Prize (RAM) 2001; Winner, Sir Arthur Bliss Chamber Music Prize (RAM) 2000; Winner of wind section and Faber Prize, UK Performing Australian Music competition, 2001 (her clarinet and bass clarinet recital was broadcast on ABC radio); Finalist, Wind section, Royal Overseas League Competition 2000.   Sarah has performed clarinet concertos with the Royal Academy of Music Sinfonia, European Union Youth Wind Orchestra and the Nottingham Orchestra of the Restoration.

Sarah specialises on the bass clarinet and has gained an international reputation as an artist, teacher and researcher on the instrument. She has performed solo repertoire across the UK, Ireland, Asia, Europe and the Americas and has attracted composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Piers Hellawell and William Sweeney to write works for her. In January 2003, Sarah performed a solo bass clarinet recital in London’s Purcell Room as part of the Park Lane Group Young Artist Series.  

Sarah teaches bass clarinet at the Royal Northern College of Music and clarinet at Nottingham University. She is Associate in Music Performance and Director of MA Performance at Sheffield University. Sarah hosts bass clarinet and clarinet courses on the Isle of Raasay in Scotland and runs and tutors on other wind chamber music courses in the UK and France. Sarah has given workshops on bass clarinet technique at many establishments including the Royal Academy of Music, Trinity College of Music, The Royal Welsh College of Music, The Royal Northern College of Music, The Royal Irish Academy of Music, Keele University and Edinburgh University.

Sarah performs with Hard Rain Ensemble, rarescale and SCAW.

Sarah has completed a PhD in bass clarinet multiphonic analysis at Keele University and has published ‘Spectral Immersions; A Comprehensive Guide to the Theory and Practice of Bass Clarinet Multiphonics’ via Metropolis publishers.

Sarah is a Selmer artist, a Vandoren UK artist and a Silverstein Ligature artist.

In 2016, she was made an assocaite of the Royal Academy of Music, London.

sarahkwatts.co.uk

 

 

(photo: David Carslaw)

jane_booth

Who or what inspired you to take up the clarinet and make it your career? 

My father used to take me to hear concerts at Middlesbrough Town Hall given by what was then called the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra. I loved the sound of the the clarinet in that orchestra and declared it my chosen instrument – apparently!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

During my teenage years I loved making music in a variety of settings. The combined energies, harmonies, rhythms and colours from orchestras, wind bands, dance bands and pit bands gave me a  hunger for performing that has never left!  Chamber music, solo playing, orchestral playing now fill many of my days (and evenings), and the sense of fulfilment just gets stronger.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

As a performer on historical instruments I find that I need to have many different instruments in good working order and ready for performance at any one time. Sometimes lining up 10 or 12 different clarinets, basset horns or chalumeaux in the run up to a range of concert programmes can be quite challenging – not to mention ensuring that I have good working reeds for all of them too! But each instrument has its own tonal colour, depth and dynamic range to explore and this also informs my music making so the down sides all have a really positive flip side to accompany them.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m really excited about the new CD with one of my chamber groups ‘Ensemble DeNOTE’, an ensemble formed by my husband and fortepianist, John Irving. We often play historical arrangements of eighteenth and nineteenth century favourites, so this CD celebrates that repertoire with two Beethoven ‘selfies’ – his trio arrangement of the Septet (clarinet, cello, fortepiano) and a piano quartet version of the Op. 16 quintet for piano and wind. With the beautiful added decorations in the Op. 16 I’m enjoying the piano quartet version rather more than I ought to! With ensembleF2 I’ve recorded a second album of chamber music by Franz Danzi. Returning to his two wonderfully operatic sonatas (one for clarinet with fortepiano and the other for basset horn and fortepiano) with Steven Devine has been great fun, especially using the Fritz fortepiano at the Finchcocks museum and its very special percussion pedals!

Some years ago I was thrilled to take part in the first ‘historical instrument’ performances of Wagner Operas with two different orchestras and under two conductors.  Daniel Harding and Sir Simon Rattle each brought their own insights to this repertoire, the results were thrilling for players and audiences – such a privilege to be a part of this particular journey of rediscovery.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Mozart ‘s Gran Partita, Requiem and of course Concerto really are enjoyable to perform and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to indulge myself in these works in recent times. Again, the instruments we use are so very special for these pieces and I’m lucky to have very well made (hand made) copies that are as close to the instruments that Anton Stadler played as I think it is possible to have. My basset clarinet was made by Peter van der Poel, it plays really well and is modelled on the picture of Stadler’s instrument from a Riga concert announcement.  My basset horn was a recent purchase from Guy Cowley whose instruments just get better and better – it sings so sweetly and is a joy to play.

How do your make your repertoire choices from season to season?

A new bass chalumeau by Guy Cowley and a basson de chalumeau by Andreas Schöni have promoted me to explore a number of baroque composers recently leading to a new programme of music for chalumeaux, voice and continuo with works by Vivaldi, Bononcini, Graupner, Zelenka,  Telemann and others. The soprano chalumeau in particular blends so sweetly with a voice – and fits very conveniently into a coat pocket!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

My favourite hall of the moment is The Anvil at Basingstoke. With the OAE (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) we have played large symphonic programmes such as Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique as well as chamber performances of classical wind serenades. The sound in the hall is exceptional and it is so rewarding to perform in such a wonderfully warm and vibrant atmosphere. The people of Basingstoke and the surrounding region may not realise just how lucky they are!!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love playing great choral works such as Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, Bach/Mendelssohn St. Matthew Passion and others. Performing the texts and sentiments of these great works is always inspiring and there are several great choral ensembles around these days that lift the music to incredible heights – I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with some of them. Brahms Symphonies, Tippett’s A Child of our Time and Schubert’s Lieder would also be on my desert island disc list.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Playing in TWO chamber groups on a regular basis affords me many wonderful opportunities to play with musicians whose playing I adore, who inspire and challenge me and with whom I can explore ideas and repertoire to my heart’s content.  Beyond the lives of those ensembles, I feel most inspired when I’m on stage with people who put the music and their enthusiasm first, leaving their egos outside the room…… A number of them work alongside me at the Guildhall School!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I’ve enjoyed many different performing settings but many concerts with Toronto’s Tafelmusik stand out for me as having incredible energy, consensus and excitement. Under Bruno Weil, Tafelmusik’s exploration of Beethoven Symphonies brought me immense pleasure and fulfilment – even through the recording sessions which so often in other settings can sap the joy out of the music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Technique only has value if you can use it to convey something from your heart.

Where would you like to be in ten years’ time? 

In 10 years’ time I’d like to be working one-to-one with more students and directing even more of my own musical projects.

 Jane peforms Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet K.581 on a period basset clarinet and Crusell Quartet Op.2 No. 1 in a concert on October 5th with Consone Quartet, St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, London E1 6JN. Free entry with retiring collection

Jane is a specialist in the early clarinet and chalumeau. In addition to her work as Head of Historical Performance at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, regular masterclasses and international adjudicating, she has pursued a busy international career, playing all over the world with many renowned ensembles including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Tafelmusik and The Academy of Ancient Music. Her repertoire is vast and extends from the works of Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi through to Wagner, Mahler and Debussy – all on historically appropriate instruments.

After some fifteen thrilling years as principal clarinet of the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees Jane turned her focus towards chamber music. She has performed in the UK, North America, Japan, Australia and Europe with Robert Levin, Ronald Brautigam, Eybler Quartet and Les Jacobins, and currently performs regularly with her Ensemble DeNOTE and Ensemble F2. Concerto performances include baroque concertos by Fasch, Telemann, Graupner, and Molter, Mozart’s Concerto for basset clarinet and Weber’s Concertos performed Europe-wide.

Jane has recorded for Analekta (Canada), ATMA (Canada) and sfz music (UK) performing Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, solo repertoire for the Basset Horn, wind music by Gossec and Méhul, and a programme of Lieder by Schubert. A DVD documentary on Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio with Ensemble DeNOTE (Optic Nerve) is complemented by a new recording of Beethoven’s Trio Op. 38 (Omnibus Classics). A second CD of the chamber music of Franz Danzi is in preparation with ensembleF2 on the Devine Music label.

janebooth.net

denote.org.uk

ensemblef2.com

 

 

(photo: Martin Tompkins)
Who or what inspired you to take up the clarinet and pursue a career in music?

Hearing the sound of a clarinet in a live orchestral concert – I had been advised to take up a second instrument to complement my piano studies and the sound won me over!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My two most important teachers – firstly, my initial piano teacher, Bridget Christian, who above all encouraged me to love the music that I played. Secondly, my major clarinet teacher during my school years, Dr. Kevin Murphy. He was not just a teacher, but a friend and mentor in every respect, demanding excellence and dedication, fostering (and sometimes reining in) my enthusiasm, and giving me advice and principles which I use every day in developing my career.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Leaving full-time study and transitioning into the profession – occasionally staring at a worryingly bare diary, and having the confidence to continue.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Walking onto the stage at Snape Maltings aged 14, and summoning the courage to perform my first concerto (Weber’s 2nd, op. 74). I don’t remember much about the experience except overwhelming nerves before it, and overwhelming excitement and relief after it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I don’t know if I play them best, but the works that I enjoy performing the most are those which I truly can put my own interpretative stamp on, or collaborate with other musicians to create our own unique, musically considered approach. I am also – for better or worse – a bit of a showman, and I love to engage with that element in concertos, or lighten the tone of a recital with a fun and frothy showpiece.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

At the moment, my main priorities are variety (to keep both myself and audiences engaged), stylistic balance, and originality through new works.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’m sure that I haven’t performed in nearly enough venues to make a choice, but for sentimental reasons (certainly not for acoustics) it would have to be Wells Cathedral, Somerset, a place I associate wholly with my formative musical years.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: undoubtably the Mozart Quintet K581 and the Copland Concerto.

To listen to: Jessye Norman’s 1982 recording of Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Claudio Abbado’s Daphnis et Chloé with the London Symphony Orchestra, or Earth, Wind and Fire’s Greatest Hits.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Far too many to list – but three that spring immediately to mind are: Joyce Didonato, for her advocacy of an utterly healthy, positive and enthusiastic approach to the world of music; Mitsuko Uchida, for her unwavering musical integrity; and Edith Piaf, for the sheer authenticity of her expression.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

During my final course as principal of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – the principal’s ensemble played John Adam’s Chamber Symphony and Copland’s Appalachian Spring under Pablo Heras-Casado, and the full orchestra performed Copland’s monumental 3rd Symphony with Antonio Pappano live on BBC2 at the BBC Proms. It was an unforgettable and idyllic three weeks, with so many cherished memories. Rehearsing and performing the Weber Quintet op. 34 during my final year at university with the Endellion String Quartet was equally terrifying, thrilling, and enlightening.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Enthusiasm, enjoyment and dedication.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Settled, happy, and making a living out of what I love doing, while continuing to love doing it!

What is your present state of mind?

Incredibly excited, if a little apprehensive about what my career will bring.

Joseph Shiner’s biography

josephshiner.co.uk