Maccaferri opens New Music at Lawrence Series

The New Music at Lawrence series kicked off the term with a series of events by clarinetist Michael Maccaferri, a well-traveled performer and co-founder of the contemporary music ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Maccaferri gave a master class to Lawrence students, presented a lecture on “Entrepreneurship in the Arts” and culminated his visit with a solo recital, which featured earlier works by Bach and Stravinsky, as well as contemporary composers Broening, Muhly and Clyne.

Maccaferri is a clarinetist and bass clarinetist most known for his work with Grammy Award-winning new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird, which was founded at Oberlin Conservatory of Music when Maccaferri was an undergraduate. This ground-breaking group is a leading commissioner and performer of new music, working with composers such as Steve Reich and Frederic Rzewski, among others. Maccaferri is also an educator, giving workshops and master classes around the country and is currently on faculty at the University of Richmond. He is also an accomplished performer with various orchestras, such as Cleveland Orchestra, Toronto Symphony and the Atlanta Symphony.

Maccaferri opened the concert with the oldest piece on the program, but with a new twist. On bass clarinet, he performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, utilizing the bass clarinet’s range to obtain some of the sounds one would hear from a cello, while adding a fresh sound as it is played by this low range, single reed instrument.

Jumping ahead about three hundred years, Maccaferri performed the first work for clarinet and electronics in Benjamin Broening’s “Arioso/Doubles.” Played on bass clarinet, this atmospheric piece was written for clarinet and prerecorded triggered sound, revealing clarinet’s involvement in new music, which is not an instrument always associated with contemporary works.

We then went back to the beginning of the twentieth century to hear Igor Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet,” which were written in the wake of his Rite of Spring. Although it is not written with an electronic component, the solo clarinet piece sounded contemporary and was filled with jarring rhythms and complex motives often heard in the ground-breaking ballet. The three pieces differed in style, with varying tempos from slow and rubato to rapid and uneven, exhibiting Maccaferri’s musical phrasing and technical virtuosity.

The next two pieces displayed the clarinet’s versatility with new music, first in “It Goes Without Saying” by Nico Muhly, a contemporary composer based in New York who writes for a variety of artists, ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to Sufjan Stevens. This particular piece was written for Bb clarinet and prerecorded tape, which was filled with prerecorded clarinet, haunting vocals and overlapping drones, often obscuring when the live clarinet was playing or when it was the recording. Lastly, Maccaferri performed Anna Clyne’s “Rapture,” written for clarinet and electronics that manipulate the live clarinet sound before coming out of the speakers. Whereas the Muhly was more reflective and floating between music of the present moment and prerecorded sound, Clyne had a more violent, edgy sound with sharp, nonlinear clarinet lines and the electronics moving quickly through different dynamics and effects, as if the clarinet and accompaniment were reacting to one another.

Maccaferri’s program showcased both the more traditional sound of solo clarinet as well as its growing involvement in new, contemporary music. The next concert of New Music at Lawrence will feature Grammy-nominated vocal octet Roomful of Teeth in the Chapel on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 8:00 p.m.