Saturday, March 6, 2010
I am a passionate clarinetist, but I have no illusions about being the greatest. There are thousands of clarinetists around the world who are better than me, and that's okay. But every once in a while, I hear a player who makes me want to give up the horn--or practice a hell of a lot more. I encountered one such this morning at the Mahalia Jackson Center in New Orleans: Paquito D'Rivera. Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra had invited me to attend a rehearsal for tonight's concert featuring the celebrated Cuban clarinetist with the LPO. I knew D'Rivera only by name. But when I heard him play, I immediately recognized him as one of the world's anointed greats. The purity of his tone, the dazzling but seemingly effortless technique, the lyricism of his phrasing, were stunning. The one thing I could claim to have in common with him, aside from playing on Vandoren reeds, is that we both have rosewood clarinets. When the rehearsal was over, I resolved to go straight home and woodshed.