Written by Lauren Carrane

Recently, we decided to interview each member of Civitas to learn more about how each of them got involved in music and what drives each of them to succeed on their own instrument.

We started with an interview with pianist Winston Choi, and this week, we’re interviewing clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom.

Bloom, 63, was born in Buffalo, NY, and grew up in Bethesda, Md., and Princeton, NJ. He has been playing clarinet since the age of 9 and performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1980. In addition to performing with Civitas, he is also the co-director of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

Here’s what he had to say:


What made you want to play the clarinet?

I began piano at age 4, and at 9 negotiated that if I took private lessons on clarinet I could quit piano. I actually wanted to play the flute in my elementary school band, but in Maryland in the ’60s, little boys didn’t play the flute, so they made me take the clarinet. Then I went on a field trip to hear the National Symphony, and I heard Harold Wright, one of the greatest clarinetists of the 20th century, and I thought “I want to do what he does.”

What kinds of music were you exposed to as a kid?

My mother was an opera singer, so I heard my first opera when I was under 3. I went to my mom’s recitals and opera performances often, heard the bell choir she directed, and heard her as a soloist in our church choir. My grandmother was also a church organist and she was very encouraging of me studying music. Whenever she visited, we would play together.

When did you know that music was something that you wanted to pursue professionally?

Very few people knew I played the clarinet in high school. In college, I was a music education major for my first year, and then I thought, “All I really want to do is play.” From then on, it was just about practicing enough to become a player.

What is your favorite music to play? Do you have any favorite composers?

Chamber music is definitely my favorite, and while I love Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Debussy, I am endlessly fascinated by new music. The clarinet is a newer instrument, and as a clarinetist, you can only go back so far. I like the challenge of playing new music and exploring how different composers create new colors and sounds.

What do you get out of playing with Civitas that you don’t get when playing with the CSO?

There is a personal responsibility to chamber music that I love. There’s no conductor; we have to make all the decisions. That’s exciting, scary, and ultimately very satisfying.

What kinds of things do you do for fun outside of music? Do you ever get sick of playing the clarinet?

I play tennis, jog, love to backpack, sail, read, bicycle, hike, almost anything outdoors. When I have particularly busy times for a stretch of three or four weeks with lots of music to prepare and many performances, I do get tired of the clarinet. After a little time off, I’m usually anxious to get back to it.

What has been the most exciting moment of your career so far?

Playing an all-Bartok concert in Budapest with Sir George Solti, when they hadn’t heard Bartok for 40 years because the Communists had banned his music, was a fantastic experience. The first time I played in the Royal Albert Hall in London in the mid ’80s, which seats 6,000 people, was amazing. The students would literally sleep outside to be able to get tickets, and then they would all be there in the front of the “prom” area with scores of what we were playing. And any time you get to play in the Musikverien in Vienna, it is an unbelievable thing to be a part of.


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