Spotlight: For an Actor – Shulamit Ran

Part 2 of my Spotlight series on solo clarinet works by women composers takes a look at For an Actor: Monologue for Clarinet, by Shulamit Ran.

Immediately, For an Actor is set apart from most solo clarinet repertoire due to its instrumentation – Ran calls for the instrument in A, rather than the much more common B-flat clarinet. On a side note – I love playing the A clarinet, and I wish it would be called for more frequently by contemporary composers. While some composers allow either, such as in Augusta Read Thomas’s D(i)agon(als), few ask for it specifically. To my ear, Ran’s choice gives the piece a slightly darker tone than it would otherwise have.

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D(i)agon(als) – Augusta Read Thomas

This is the first in a series of spotlight posts on solo clarinet repertoire composed by women. Up first, Augusta Read Thomas’ D(i)agon(als).

D(i)agon(als) was commissioned in honor of clarinetist Russell Dagon in 2005, and premiered at Northwestern by J. Lawrie Bloom in May of that year. The piece is a tight five minutes of playful and improvisational-sounding material, with a wide range of characters in its short duration. It’s as fun to play as it is to listen to.

Structurally it consists of five sections of increasing length, described by Thomas as “phrases”. Indeed, there is little that could be heard of as cadential until the fermatas that punctuate the ending of each phrase, making part of the challenge of the piece giving each of the lengthy phrases shape and direction. The other challenge of the piece is in the idiomatic yet virtuosic writing for the clarinet – everything lies under the fingers quite nicely, but there are some difficult passages around the break. The piece also demands great control and flexibility, as Thomas tasks the clarinetist with sudden changes in register, dynamic, and mood throughout the piece.

Pedagogically, this piece is a good early step into contemporary clarinet repertoire for an advanced student with a solid altissimo, as its virtuosity is in conventional technique, with nothing that would be considered an extended technique. The wide leaps are helpful in developing the registral flexibility necessary for many contemporary works, but in a manageable package that is not a test of endurance.

Purchase D(i)agon(als) on JW Pepper.

Hear me performing the piece in December 2017: