To Hear a Basset Clarinet is a Rare Affair: Czech Clarinetist Ludmila Peterková Charmed Our Audience


Our accomplished guest from the Czech Republic, Ludmila Peterková, charmed with the clarinet her San Diego audience! We loved her! The string quartet shone in difficult dense philosophical Brahms music, the beautiful Point Loma Assembly was sold out, the goulash was finished, the cake appreciated, the wine savored, the Czech beer praised, the whimsical Gershwin clarinet quintet Walk the Dog sent the audience home happy and smiling, and thus, the very first concert of a season 2020 can be assessed with all modesty as a pleasant successful musical evening.

Ludmila is an accomplished international soloist, a graduate of Prague Conservatory and a Music Academy, recipient of the top accolades from the world's prestigious competitions Prague Spring, a clarinet professor who has recorded many successful and wonderfully dramaturgically concepted albums. She is one of a few for whom composers compose music specifically for her. (Ondřej Kukal Clarinettimo is amazing and written for Ludmila!) From Europe to Japan, she showcases with a great success her virtuosity, musicality, and finally, last Saturday, one her dreams came true: To appear in the Point Loma Assembly. (A joke intended!) How happy we were to open our season with her radiating performance.

Ludmila showcased at our concert a rare basset clarinet that the audience loved, a clarinet about 6 inched longer than a regular clarinet with additional lower notes, manufactured by Buffet Crampon, featuring beautiful velvety, burnished pleasant sound.

And here is how it came about:

There is a clarinet, there is a lower basset clarinet and there is even lower basset horn. All of these instruments arrived from its predecessor, the late Baroque "chalumeau" , that had one reed and eight holes. A clarinet was invented sometimes around the year 1700' by a German instrument maker Johann Christoph Denner.

Its cousin, basset horn in a key of F, was most likely invented around 1770 by Anton and Michel Mayrhofer, it was flared and bent, its modern version today looks like a long clarinet with a bell on the bottom. It is the lowest of the three instruments. Then came an invention of the basset clarinet in 1788 by Theobold Lotz. The invention was driven by a clarinet virtuoso and a close friend of Mozart, Anton Stradler. It is usually in the key of A with four extra keys; ordinary clarinet is in B flat. Both clarinets, basset clarinet and the basset horn charmed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who fell in love with them and wrote for them the most beautiful music: for the basset clarinet a clarinet quintet premiered in 1789, and a clarinet concerto, premiered in 1791, both written for and played by Stadler and his musicians. The basset horn Mozart featured in the Benedictus in his Requiem, in the Great Partitas, in his last opera La Clemenza di Tito written for Prague's coronation of Leopold II...

The basset horn and the basset clarinets fell out of fashion in beginning of 1800's and the music that was written for them was transposed for the regular clarinet. But just like with anything beautiful, both of this historical instruments found people who loved them and the instruments were resurrected. Nevertheless, they are extremely rare and we were lucky to hear the basset clarinet in a playful, inventive, melodious, charming Mozart's Clarinet Quintet. What a parade of harmonic and textural beauty between the rich sound of clarinet playing along cello, viola and a pair of violins. One feels like opening the arms and embracing the music as it seems it assumed a beautiful huggable shape.

And what was the inspiration for Ludmila to start playing clarinet? When she was 4, her parents gave her a plastic colorful clarinet, its keys color-coded with the color-coded sheet music. Ludmila started playing and she could not tear herself from it! And before she knew it, she practiced eight to ten hours a day, loving every minute of it. And to get to the level she achieved, this is the only way. Our wholehearted admiration goes to all virtuosos who make our life much more beautiful by their talent and incredible diligence.

In the first half of the concert we admired the musicians of the string quartet. What an accomplished group of members of the San Diego Symphony: Jisun Yang, Yumi Cho, Andrew Hayhurst, Jason Karlyn presented a challenging brooding Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 that he worked on for long seven years, and finally published in 1873 after writing over twenty quartets that he never published! He pasted them on the ceiling of his Hamburg flat where he could, as he said, admire them without anyone's criticism, anytime whenever he laid down. The quartet is packed with ideas and it raised for the audience many questions just like a difficult poem may do....

And here is an interesting fact: the quartet contains encoding in the opening chords F A E, Frei Aber Einsam (free but lonely). It was a sentence repeated to Brahms by his best friend and the best violinist of the time Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). He pressed Brahms to get married, but Brahms would reply he "would rather write an opera than to get married" and he continued his message by encoding in his 3rd symphony chords: F A F (Frei Aber Froth, Free but Happy)!

Why Brahms published his first quartet when he was 40 and his first symphony at 43? He once said: 'You cannot have an idea how it feels to hear the steps of a giant constantly behind you" . Beethoven was Brahms' "doom" and Brahms' joy. He loved his music, but felt he would be always compared to him, and so after writing genres that Beethoven did not write, he finally gave in..... He did not stay in Beethoven's shadow, but he imprisoned himself in a frame of mind that he, Brahms, is of no comparison to the giant of Beethoven. He lived with this feeling of inferiority in his creative output causing him to create in a very slow methodical way. But it paid of, his multilayered dense music of his quartets and his symphonies are worthy of any musical giant around.

It was a special and beautiful evening with the best audience I could ask for. A sea of handsome faces, many already familiar....The smiles and laughs of the audience, the lush harmonies of the chamber ensemble, and the clarinet tone brightened the Hall, brightened our soul, its silver and bronze tones carried through the quiet Point Loma night and perhaps lit several extra lucky stars above our beautiful seacoast town.

Thank you: Dottie Laub, Ludmila Peterkova, Petr Peterka, Jisun Yang, Yumi Cho, Andrew Hayhurst, Jason Karlyn, Jody Applebaum, Vladislav Hanc, Lukas Hanc, Adelka Hancova, Misa Moran, Pavel Chvistek, Eva Sommerova, Petra Popova, Joann and Roy Corder.