Stephen Williamson Talks About Playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto for the Chicago Food Depository Benefit Concert.
Stephen Williamson will be performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with Maestro Riccardo Muti conducting on June 13, 2016, during the special Benefit Concert for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. We asked him a few questions about the upcoming performance.
When did Maestro Muti first ask you to play the Mozart Concerto?
When I won the job as Principal Clarinet in May 2011, Maestro Muti said that he would like to perform the Mozart Clarinet Concerto together some day. We were scheduled to play the Concerto on four CSO subscription concerts in February 2016. At the last minute, Maestro Muti had to cancel his February concerts after suffering a fall and needing surgery. I ended up performing the concerto with Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. When the Chicago Symphony Musicians decided to produce our own benefit concert, which Maestro Muti immediately agreed to conduct, it was only natural that the Mozart Concerto would be on the program.
How do you feel about performing on this Benefit Concert?
I’m looking forward to playing in the Studebaker Theater. This concert will have a deeper meaning for me because it’s for a great cause, helping our Chicago community members who don’t have enough to eat. Healthy food is a basic necessity. We take it for granted that we have food on the table. Music reaches people of all races, colors, and creeds. It’s food for the soul.
What is special to you about the Mozart Clarinet Concerto?
The Concerto is a late work of Mozart’s, written at the same time as his operas The Magic Flute and La clemenza di Tito and his unfinished Requiem. Mozart wrote only 199 measures of what was first intended as a basset horn concerto. He apparently decided that the piece would work better on a basset clarinet. Anton Stadler, for whom the Concerto was written, had a clarinet made that would cover a larger range than a standard clarinet. Mozart loved Stadler’s low register, and transcribed his original draft to the key of A. Mozart admired Stadler so highly that after two years of friendship, he invited Stadler to become a Mason like himself. I think that the Clarinet Concerto is the greatest wind concerto Mozart ever wrote. I try to play it from a vocal perspective, like an opera singer. The piece has little to do with the clarinet at all!
What is it like to make music with Maestro Muti?
We seem to have a unified idea about how music should sound. It seems effortless, because Maestro Muti knows how to nurture my playing in the moment to bring out my best playing.
Matous and Simon Michal, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Violinists
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Music Director Riccardo Muti, Section Violin- 2 positions available.In the spring of 2015 a simple notice appeared in the International Musician, the monthly publication of the American Federation of Musicians:
The first part of the audition process started in late September 2015. In order to make the process as fair as possible, the CSO holds blind auditions. The nine CSO members on the audition committee can’t see the musicians who are taking the audition and don’t receive any information about them. The Personnel Office assigns each candidate a number and that’s how the audition committee refers to them. If a candidate receives a super-majority of votes from the committee he or she is invited to the final audition. Only then is a candidate’s name revealed.
At the end of one day of preliminary auditions, there was a finalist named Matous Michal. The next week there was a finalist who was named Simon Michal! After a quick Google search it was determined that they were brothers from the Czech Republic, studying in New York City. After six days of preliminary auditions, and 178 violinists, only eight violinists had been invited to the final audition, to be held on November 30, 2015. Finals are held when Maestro Muti is in residency, so he can confer with the audition committee in the selection of new musicians. After the finalists had all played and the votes of the committee were tallied, the two brothers came out on top, and Maestro Muti offered Matous and Simon Michal positions in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra violin section.
The newest members of the Chicago Symphony violin section joined the Orchestra on February 4, 2016. Matous and Simon, ages 24 and 22, are less than two years apart in age and were one year apart in school. Their father, Ladislav Michal, was their first violin teacher. They each began playing the violin at age 4. Their mother, Michaela is a cellist and teacher. The brothers grew up in Bezdekov, a beautiful village of 300 people where Mr. and Mrs. Michal still reside. Both Matous and Simon attended high school at the Prague Conservatory, a three-hour bus ride from their home. While studying at the Conservatory, the brothers took violin lessons with professors there, but during their weekend visits home their father expected them to play for him so he could check on their progress.
Matous was the first to come to the United States, in the summer of 2006, where he attended the Meadowmount School for Strings, an intensive 7-week summer program in upstate New York. Simon joined his brother at Meadowmount in 2007 and each of them attended for four summers. In 2010, Matous began undergraduate studies at Juilliard, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance in 2014. This month he will receive a Masters Degree in Orchestral Performance from the Manhattan School of Music. As part of his degree requirements, Matous wrote a paper on performance anxiety with the guidance of pianist Carol Ann Aicher. Simon received a Bachelor’s Degree from Juilliard in 2015. Simon started a Master’s Degree program last fall at the Manhattan School of Music, but left after the first semester to join the CSO. Matous played in the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago last summer. Playing in the CSO is Simon’s first professional job.
We asked Matous and Simon a few questions:
When did you first start learning English?
Matous: We began studying English in school in the fourth grade, but a few years later our dad thought we needed more help, so we took private lessons with a famous translator who is a family friend.
Simon: Speaking English was a small problem during our first summers at Meadowmount. We didn’t speak very much, because we couldn’t understand what people were saying, so other students thought we were quiet. Years later when we ran into people that we had known at Meadowmount, they couldn't believe how much more outgoing we had become. But it was just that we had become more comfortable speaking English after having lived in New York.
How did your parents feel about you both winning jobs in the CSO?
Matous: “I think they were stunned and they didn’t believe it right away. My Mom told us that she woke very early one morning, and Dad wasn’t in bed. She went downstairs to check on him, and he was sitting on the couch. He told her that he couldn’t sleep ‘because I am so happy.’ ”
When did you last visit your parents?
Simon: “We went home for Christmas. Our parents are looking forward to their first trip to Chicago in June. The only other time they have travelled to the US was to accompany us on a school orchestra trip to New Mexico in the fall of 2007. They are especially looking forward to attending concerts at Orchestra Hall conducted by Maestro Muti. They also hope to be in the audience when the CSO performs in Vienna next January as part of a European tour.”
Simon and Matous Michal, Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinists
photo by David Taylor