Written by Lauren Carrane
If you’ve ever been to a Civitas concert, you know that their musical selections can be broad and varied. Civitas always performs concerts that feature a mixture of both old and new pieces.
But how exactly do the Civitas musicians decide what to play? We asked clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom and violinist Yuan-Qing Yu to walk us through the process of how they select music for each of their programs.
Q: How do you go about selecting a repertoire to play for a concert? Do you come up with a theme first and then look for music to fit the theme? Or does someone suggest a specific piece they would like to play and then you build a program from that?
Lawrie Bloom: We have done both ways, depending on who is presenting. For instance, the CSO series has themes pre-assigned to each concert, so we program to go with a theme. When we present our own concerts, we start by asking everybody what particular pieces they might like to play during an upcoming season. Currently, Winston [Choi] and I are serving as Artistic Directors, so we take those building blocks and see how they might fit together. In that case, a theme might emerge for a concert, or since we both like extremely eclectic concerts, and a mix of standard and less known or brand new works, the variety may be what appeals to us, and therefore, we hope, to the audience.
Yuan-Qing Yu: We do a bit of both. Sometimes we have a theme first and we do research to find pieces that fit the theme, or we discuss pieces that we really want to play, often a major work, and then choose other works that will work well with it. We try to have repertoire meetings where we brainstorm on potential projects.
Q: Do you always try to find music that features a clarinet, violin, cello and piano?
Lawrie Bloom: We do try to find pieces for our current combination, but don’t limit ourselves to that. Since this is a relatively new combination as a chamber group, the music written for it is basically since World War II, and much of it extremely challenging to listeners who are not complete new music aficionados. Since, as I said, we prefer a great variety, we will add instruments to perform works that interest us to explore, and we think will interest the audience.
Yuan-Qing Yu: For works that include the clarinet, we rely heavily on Lawrie. We usually don’t program every piece with clarinet, since there are large amount of great piano trios, piano quartets, and other larger ensembles, where we could invite other guest musicians to join us.
Q: What are the important elements to consider when putting a program together?
Yuan-Qing Yu: The length [of each piece], the different genres and how well they work together, the instrumentation, the rehearsal time needed, who the audience is, the venue, the event theme if there is one, the logistics of transporting instruments (such as percussion instruments’ rental and transportation).
Lawrie Bloom: Who wants to play what. Will our audience trust us to push them out of their comfort zone? Will it be fun and fulfilling to put together?
Q: As a group, you tend to do new pieces quite often. How do you learn about new pieces of music? Where do you go to listen to new things and be inspired?
Yuan-Qing Yu: If there is a recording, it’s helpful to listen to it. But like with any piece, personally, I like to practice my part and study the score before spending a lot of time listening to other performances, because I would like to have a fresh look and an unbiased opinion about the piece. It’s like meeting a new person for the first time; I love a true first impression.
Lawrie Bloom: I spend a lot of time listening to music, mainly on the Naxos listening library online. Sometimes I look for one piece, and another piece on the album seems more interesting to me. I comb the New York Times for the names of composers I don’t know to see if I can find their music, and I look at websites of other chamber groups to see what pieces they may know that I don’t.
Q: Why do you think it is important for audiences to hear new music?
Lawrie Bloom: Everyone has their musical comfort zone. We play within that sometimes, and sometimes not. As a clarinetist, I have always been involved in new music, because the clarinet is a relatively new instrument, and the chamber repertoire doesn’t go back as far as the piano or strings. From playing so much new music, we are able to gain a perspective of what we find really exciting, meaningful, and worth sharing with our audience. Even we don’t always agree on a particular piece, but trust each other that if one of us says this piece is really worth delving into, we are going to want to try it. And, of course, we constantly try to talk about a piece from the stage, and work to develop a trust with the audience, so that they think if we are willing to learn a piece, they would like to hear it. To me, that trust between the performers and the audience is the greatest thing in presenting music, and what makes chamber music so appealing to so many.
Yuan-Qing Yu: My personal philosophy is “One does not know what one might like until one experiences it.” We like the challenge of learning new things and we like to expose other people to new adventures. Art is inter-connected, and all art forms influence one another. I believe strongly that artists not only need to keep the classical works alive, but also stay relevant to their own time. It’s essential for artists to be connected to their communities and societies, to understand how their individual artistic output fits into the ever evolving world.
Tune in to 90.9 WDCB on Sunday, October 11 from 8-9am to hear more from Yuan-Qing and Lawrie.