Chicago-born clarinetist Anthony McGill is an incredible talent who will be performing Carl Nielsen’s esoteric clarinet concerto, Op. 57 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) on October 27 and 28 at Royce Hall of the University of California, Los Angeles and the Alex Theatre in Glendale. For the past 50 years, LACO has offered amazingly eclectic and cutting-edge programs that have flourished under the baton of such luminaries as Sir Neville Marriner, Iona Brown, Jeffrey Kahane – and they look to the future in Jaime Martin, Music Director Designate for the 2019-2020 season. Also of interest is LACO’s community involvement in the arts, as evidenced by the new LA Orchestra Fellowship project in partnership with the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.
This upcoming concert featuring the Nielsen concerto will be conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, Music Director Designate of the Seattle Symphony and will also include works by Sibelius, Grieg and Arvo Part. McGill became Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic in 2014, of which the position included a number of exceptional players like Stanley Drucker. He also served as Principal Clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Associate Principal of the Cincinnati Symphony. He is also in demand as soloist and chamber musician and enjoys a dizzying amount of appearances and collaborations with orchestras and ensembles such as the San Diego Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Brentano, Dover, JACK, Pacifica, Takacs and Tokyo quartets.
McGill is a regular at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Music @ Menlo, Mainly Mozart and Tanglewood festivals, among others. Interestingly, his discography includes performances with brother Demarre, who is principal flute of the Seattle Symphony, as well as a reading of Nielsen’s clarinet concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert on the DaCapo Records label. Not surprisingly, McGill’s varied repertoire includes mainstream works and composers of our time such as Richard Danielpour’s From the Mountaintop, which he premiered in 2014.
He served as Artist-in-Residence at New York’s WQXR and is on the faculty of four (yes four) prestigious institutions: The Juilliard School, The Curtis Institute of Music, Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. McGill studied at the Curtis Institute and his musical savvy received further international attention in 2009 from a collaborative performance of John Williams’ Air and Simple Gifts with Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Gabriela Montero - given during the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
He also made headlines as being the first African-American principal player in the history of the New York Philharmonic. Bravo to that and also to his upcoming tours of South Korea, China and Taiwan with Chamber Music Today and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as a series of master classes he will give for the University of Texas at Austin.
Anthony McGill talks with Editor Leonne Lewis about teaching and performing.
What are some of the challenges involved in playing in a symphony orchestra vs. an opera orchestra?
The repertoire is completely different and yet both are challenging and beautiful in different ways. The obvious differences are in the length of the operas and the singers involved. This creates a different feel and pacing for the performance.
What attracted you to the clarinet and your brother Demarre to the flute?
My brother started on the flute because there happened to be an old instrument in the house that belonged to my father. I picked up the clarinet years later when I wanted to play the saxophone but it was too large for me to hold. I was told that the clarinet was the next best thing, and I’ve never looked back.
You are on the faculty of four respected music conservatories. Is the clarinet a first instrument of choice for students?
There are lots of clarinetists around, but I’m not sure if it is the first choice among all students. But because of the amount of clarinet players, probably quite a few chose it. Developing the tone is very difficult for clarinet and also mastering the technique, as the instrument can handle lots of notes that sometimes have to be played very fast.
Could you describe Carl Nielsen’s clarinet concerto you will be playing with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra?
The Nielsen is a great work for the clarinet. It is complicated yet beautiful, harsh yet gentle. It has so much variety, color and characters that make it a vast rainbow of interesting sounds and unique melodies. It is an extremely fascinating and colorful work.