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West Point Clarinet Summit
By SSG Diana Cassar-Uhl
Performing Ponchielli's Il Convegno from left to right: Stephen Girko, clarinet; Dr. Ruthanne Schempf, piano and SFC Shawn Herndon, clarinet.
Prior to the start of the event, four young artists were selected to come and audition in the final round of the Summit’s Young Artists’ Competition. Jennifer Schundler, a student at the University of Florida; Cory Thompson, a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi; and Maegan McHugh, a student at the University of Connecticut, were runners-up in the competition and earned the opportunity to perform in master classes with the featured artists of the event. Georgiy Borisov, a student at the Manhattan School of Music, won first place, a new mouthpiece from Jim Pyne and performed Rossini’s Introduction, Theme, and Variations with the Academy Band on the Summit’s closing gala concert.
On Friday, participants were treated to an open rehearsal of the USMA Concert Band, featuring Stephen Girko (Austin Symphony), Larry Combs (Chicago Symphony), Mr. Borisov and the band’s own principal clarinetist, Sergeant First Class John Parrette. A mouthpiece discussion, led by Jim Pyne, informed attendees about the basics of mouthpiece construction and how to choose the best fit for your clarinet. A recital by the Academy Clarinet Quartet (Master Sergeant Rachel Grasso, Sergeants First Class Shawn Herndon and John Parrette, and Staff Sergeant Sam Kaestner), featuring transcriptions by members of the group of Bartok and Beethoven string quartets, impressed the audience. Mr. Girko led a master class, featuring two of the young artists. The audience experienced the depth of the West Point Band’s clarinet section at the first of two mixed solo recitals, featuring Staff Sergeants Diana Cassar-Uhl and Jeff Geller, and Sergeant First Class Christopher Jones. Staff Sergeant Sam Kaestner presented an hour-long discussion about the bass clarinet just prior to Mr. Girko’s feature recital. Girko and accompanist Dr. Ruthanne Schempf delighted the audience with their performance of Bernstein’s Sonata, the Debussy Premiere Rhapsody, Babin’s Hillandale Waltzes, and, in a special performance with former student Sergeant First Class Shawn Herndon, Ponchielli’s Il Convegno. After dinner, the evening’s final event began – Mr. Combs’s all-Mozart feature recital. Accompanied by pianist Evan Solomon and violist Noriko Futagami Herndon, Combs delivered an unforgettable performance of the Kegelstadt Trio, followed by a transcription (by SFC John Parrette) of the Quintet in C minor with the Academy Clarinet Quartet.
Saturday began with a recital by the West Point Clarinet Quartet (Sergeant First Class Christopher Jones, Staff Sergeants Diana Cassar-Uhl, Jeff Geller, and Sinclair Hackett), featuring a program of original music for clarinet quartet by Paul Harvey, Michael Henry, Pierre Max DuBois and Alfred Uhl. The second mixed solo recital followed, featuring Master Sergeant Rachel Grasso and Staff Sergeants Jennie Tibbs and Erin Foster. After lunch, Mr. Combs led the other two young artists in a master class. A panel discussion led by three members of the Academy Band about life in a military band gave participants the opportunity to ask questions about the career path we’ve chosen. A clarinet choir recital followed, conducted by the band’s Executive Officer, Captain Treg Ancelet, Sergeant First Class Christopher Jones and Staff Sergeant Chris Rettie, a saxophonist in the Academy Band. The audience was treated to a diverse program of transcriptions of music by Mozart and Holst, as well as original compositions for clarinet choir by Peter Schickele and Martin Ellerby. Mr. Combs and Mr. Girko led a discussion about their careers as orchestral clarinetists to round out the afternoon.
Saturday evening’s gala concert event, led by the Academy Band’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Timothy J. Holtan, was the culmination of the two days of great music. Prior to the concert, Dr. Dana Wilson, professor of music at Ithaca College, presented a lecture on his work Liquid Ebony, which he transcribed for clarinet and wind ensemble for the West Point Clarinet Summit (the piece was premiered, with piano, by Larry Combs at the 2003 ClarFest in Salt Lake City). The concert, which also featured such traditional wind ensemble music as Molly on the Shore and The Klaxon, showcased the guest soloists in top form. Georgiy Borisov, the winner of the Young Artists’ Competition, displayed masterful control and technique for one so young in his performance of Rossini’s Introduction, Theme, and Variations. Steve Girko treated the audience to a dramatic ride through Bassi’s Fantasia on Rigoletto, and Sergeant First Class John Parrette wowed the audience with his versatility in his performance of Morton Gould’s Derivations. Larry Combs brought the concert to a rousing finish by playing Liquid Ebony. The clarinetists in the audience were excited, impressed, and motivated – one was overheard exclaiming “I have to go home and practice right now!”