BWW Review: The Clarinet Factory Performs at Prague Spring Festival
Imagine a musical performance on the first floor of the National Air & Space Museum. That is what occurred at the National Technical Museum during the recent Prague Spring Festival.
When we arrived at the National Technical Museum located in a residential neighborhood in Prague, Czech Republic, we were in the middle of this magnificent museum. The concert hall was in reality in the middle of the museum with airplanes suspended from the ceiling and a small stage located between two huge locomotive trains on railroad tracks. I must thank Pavel Trojan of the Prague Spring Festival who recommended this unusual event that featured an unusual group of talented performers.
We looked forward to hearing from "The Clarinet Factory". Since I have played this instrument in high school, I especially was looking forward to hear this ensemble.
This quartet of superb clarinetists has been around for over twenty years. They were first known as the Czech Clarinet Quartet when they began performing arrangements of Bach and Gershwin. It was in 2005 they surprised the world winning the prestigious International Song Writing Competition which had over 15,000 compositions and songs sent in from 80 countries and judged by such luminaries as Tom Waits and Jerry Lew Lewis.
They changed their name to the Clarinet Factory to reflect their potpourri of music which comes from genres such as classical, folk, crossover, contemporary, minimalism, electronics and improvisation.
All four musicians studied at the Pardubice Conservatoire.
Jindrich Pavlis, the bandleader, performs with the Prague Philharmonia and writes and arranges works for the Clarinet Factory. He has been teaching t the Plzen Conservatoire since 2005. He plays both the clarinet and contrabass clarinet.
Ludek Boura is a member of the State Opera Orchestra in Prague.
Petr Valasek performs in the Karel Vlach Orchestra as a bass clarinetist and tenor saxophonist and teaches this instrument at the Plzen Conservatoire. He utilizes his bass clarinet as a percussion instrument as well.
Finally, Vojtech Nydl is a member of the PKF-Prague Philharmonia, the wind ensemble Afflatus Quartet, and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. Nydl is the "singer" as well as a lyricist of the group and has even performed in the musical HAIR. He also has been teaching clarinet at the Plzen Conservatoire since 2013.
The group prides themselves with performing at unusual venues. They focus on visualizations, devising sound and lighting concepts in different types of spaces, and collaborates with dancers, filmmakers, and stage artists. They are known for their highly unusual site-specific performances. They performed in a flooded quarry in Central Bohemia which featured projections and special fire effects. Other locations have included in high-vaulted church ceilings and the Czech Museum of Music.
Pavlis contributed wonderful program notes which helped explain the group's focus. He wrote that some of the numbers in the program were reminiscent of Smetana, Dvorak (both Czech), Bach, Stravinsky, and Philip Glass. From there they perform minimalist, jazz, and world music. Other songs are influenced by folk and folklore and popular music.
The group has five recordings. I knew I had to take away a souvenir of this incredible concert and thanks to the CD titled "Out of Home", I listen to them almost every day.
Of the 15 tunes on the CD, six were part of the program at the Museum.
"Birdsong" begins with the clarinets sounding like a flock of birds singing happily. There is a call and response as they all hit high notes.
"5 Steps" features the bass clarinet, a solo clarinet, with lovely harmonies. Nydl's voice is haunting and mesmerizing.
"A Field Alone" starts with a beat set by the bass clarinet which is followed by the clarinets with a lovely, very contemporary melody. I could see Benny Goodman playing this.
"Glass Story" starts with a morse code-like beginning. Then the bass clarinet enters with the notes b,c, and d ever so slowly. The other clarinets follow suit in a higher key. It is hypnotic and breath-taking.
"Tango" features a Semetic influence with a lovely tango melody.
"Wild Geese" is a waltz and is very folk-like. The singing reminded me of Jacques Brel. Maybe because it is in French. It is a very romantic piece. Envision sitting in front of a fireplace with your loved one and a glass of wine.
As always, The Clarinet Factory includes visuals. A highlight is a visual of dancers portrayed on the rear wall of the museum thanks to the work of Jindrich Trapl.
The amazing sound design was by Petr Kalab. How he was able to get such a fabulous sound in a museum was amazing.
You can view a video of The Clarinet Factory at https://youtu.be/gMOmheedYVU.
Their web site is www.clarinet-factory.cz.
It was certainly a night to remember. Prague is an amazing city filled with music. I would love to be able to bring this incredible group of musicians to the United States. Any thoughts?
Photo Credit: Frantisek Hulec