Andrea Vos-Rochefort is a clarinetist and teaching artist living and working in Cincinnati. In addition to being an active performer, Andrea is a dedicated advocate of arts outreach and is passionate about engaging the public in unique and innovative ways. She will be performing five solo works for clarinet on our April 11 Solo Soundbox concert in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotel.
CSB: What initially drew you to performing new music, and when did this interest start?
AVR: The very first piece that drew me to new music was not necessarily new. It was Berg’s Vier Stücke for clarinet and piano. It completely changed my perspective because it redefined beauty. In that piece, each gesture contains a thousand words and it features a lyricism that is different, or seemingly out of contest, but in fact even more striking. At the very end, the clarinet tone becomes part of the ringing harmonics of the piano in an eerie stillness that is weirdly calming. I then found Berio’s Sequenza, I am not honestly sure how, and was drawn in by the intense colors and musical gestures. The next piece to shape my artistic path used physical gestures; I am referring to Stockhausen’s Der Kleine Harlekin for a dancing clarinetist and a new type of artist. As a teaching artist, I was completely on board with shaking things up and engaging the audience. Using these pieces for elementary school students and experiencing their openness to new concepts helped me realize the importance of playing the music of our own generation and shaping the future through the self-determined oral history that is performance and what gets performed or doesn’t. I also love any program that has the potential to double the number of female composers for the clarinet that immediately come to mind.
CSB: How do you approach learning a newly composed piece?
AVR: A newly composed piece is an enigma and an opportunity because there is room to shape it. Upon receiving a piece, I will sit with it and visualize it to get an idea of the arrival points and general character without my instrument and then break it into sections for detailed practice and focus on connecting them. It is also incredibly helpful to confer with the composer and understand their motivations in writing the piece, but first I like to internalize it and find my own connection to its specific vocabulary. Once I find this for myself, I will also listen to other pieces by the composer and this often feels like a private conversation or interview that informs my performance. I do not like to limit the composer as they write the piece with the physical limitations of the clarinet but instead find a solution once I know what they have in mind.
CSB: Who are some living composers and other new music interpreters who inspire and challenge you?
AVR: Lately, I have been working on pieces by John Harbison (his quintet for winds), Nathan Hudson (Brace Yourselves! An Impact for Clarinet and Piano), and am itching for an opportunity to revisit Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint for clarinet and electronics and Gnarly Buttons (a concerto for clarinet) by John Adams, of which the third movement absolutely tugs at my heartstrings with its references to his father’s experience with Alzheimers. I am inspired by clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, a member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and incredibly versatile performer and composer, Yo Yo Ma himself for his adventurous spirit and heart for music education, David Krakauer, a clarinetist whose soulful voice has defined Osvaldo Golijov’s quintet for clarinet and strings, Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, the dance language of Ohad Naharin, and the art of Alina Szapocznikow and Helen Frankenthaler.
CSB: Could you tell us a bit about your experiences learning the pieces on this program?
AVR: A program of premieres can be overwhelming but each piece presents its own individual challenges which are varied and invigorating. I have been collaborating with Mara Helmuth to build a vocabulary of sounds to be processed and layered in her piece “Water Birds” and in preparation for this I have been listening to bird noises and observing their movements. “Hanabie” by Haerim Seok explores textures through layers of notes and requires fluency and freedom with regular and applied practice sessions, whereas “Snow, not Ash” by Mack Lamont requires fluent fingers but also demands flexibility and artistry in the highest registers of the clarinet. “Waves like Broken Glass” by Laura Harrison and “Ein Hauch Um Nichts” by Ellen Ruth Harrison use evocative phrasing which must also be planned through experimentation and sometimes singing through phrases without the instrument. Lastly, “Waves like Broken Glass” also utilizes multiphonics, a technique in which the air is split and multiple notes sound. This involves variations in the embouchure, air column, and specific fingerings designed to aid in the production of multiple notes. For me, the best way to practice multiphonics on the clarinet is to revisit them often until they become engrained and producing them is more like remembering how they taste than going through a process each time.
CSB: What projects and concerts are on the horizon for you?
AVR: This month, I will be performing John Harbison’s Quintet for winds on April 4th, the Cincinnati Soundbox premieres on April 11th, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with Lima Symphony on April 14th, and premiering concert:nova interactive arts workshops for high school students, one of which features a commission for our STEAM-oriented educational series, Pictures of Stars for doublebass and clarinet by Daniel Harrison. This piece is a musical illustration of two ways supernovas can form and will be used with physical experiments and visuals as we encourage students to form their own audio, visual, or physical representation. Two more workshops will feature architecture and engineering concepts using Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and an instrument building workshop exploring physical sciences. Other upcoming concerts include “Angels and War-Times” on May 12 with CT:2 Duo and Friends which will conclude my residency at the Cincinnati Public Library with pianist Clare Longendyke and feature Stravinsky’s Suite from the Histoire du Soldat, excerpts from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, Chopin’s Marche Funebre, and excerpts from A Scattered Sketchbook by Kinan Azmeh. That same week, I also will be participating in the premiere of a new opera by Justin West and Sam Ferris-Morris at the Wave Pool Gallery in Camp Washington.