Composer and clarinetist Jonathan Russell is active in a wide variety of musical genres, from classical to experimental to klezmer to sacred. His work stretches the boundaries of contemporary classical music, opening it up to the sounds and attitudes of the other musical traditions surrounding it.
Notes from the Composer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Performed by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music clarinet studio, led by Jeff Anderle
The two pieces here—ELEVEN and Sextet —embody many of my current musical interests. Both use minimalist and vernacular materials as starting points, but develop them into complex, dramatic narratives. While I grew up steeped in the classical tradition, I have since become fascinated with minimalism and various vernacular styles, especially heavy metal, funk, klezmer, and Balkan music. I thus aim to use basic materials that are catchy, direct, and rhythmically driving and to build them into complex, dramatic, emotionally compelling narratives in the manner of classical masters like Brahms or Beethoven.
ELEVEN was written for the San Francisco Conservatory clarinet studio as a companion piece to Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint (both are scored for nine B-flat and two bass clarinets). I am a great admirer of Reich’s intricately interlocking patterns, jazzy harmonic palette, and rhythmic vitality. But I am less patient than he is. I love the patterns he sets up, but I want them to change more quickly and dramatically. In ELEVEN, I use very Reichish materials, but treat them in a more narrative, whimsical manner than he ever would. It is both an homage to a composer I greatly admire and a declaration of independence from the strict processes of hardcore minimalist music.
Performed by Michael Williams, flute; Jonathan Russell, clarinet; Emily Packard, violin; Erin Wang, cello; Regina Schaffer, piano; Andy Meyerson, percussion
One morning in September 2009, I came up with a fun and catchy bass line. I didn’t think much of it at the time—just a silly little warm-up exercise—but when my girlfriend was still singing it a month later, I thought perhaps I ought to make a piece out of it. This became Sextet, and what began as a whimsical exercise evolved into the backbone of a dramatic and wide-ranging work. Sextet was premiered at the 2010 Switchboard Music Festival in San Francisco.