Me and Wolfie

Me and Wolfie go back a long way. I first made contact with his music back in the 20th Century when I was in high school in Brooklyn. My band teacher, a former bass clarinetist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, introduced me to his clarinet teacher, David Weber, then principal with the New York City Ballet Orchestra. I took lessons for several years with Dave in his studio adjacent to Carnegie Hall. A… 16-year-old kid could not get more inspired. Dave was famous (or infamous) for many things like walking out of a Philadelphia Orchestra audition because Stokowski wanted him to play the excerpts first but Dave wanted to play a portion of Mozart’s clarinet concerto first.

He was more favorably known for his beautiful bel canto tone, so pure and dark but more French than German. Hearing him demonstrate the Mozart for me while I listened in awe and then foolishly trying to play the same passage has stayed in my mind forever. Dave’s playing of the Mozart during my lessons was like being at a free concert with a master. Dave recommended that I purchase a recording of Karl Leister of the Berlin Philharmonic playing the Mozart which I did immediately after one of my lessons. I was amazed once again with the beauty of tone and the consummate cantabile quality of Leister’s playing. Then I began to think, was the concerto great or were these clarinetists great or did this concerto make these clarinetists great? Leister also recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet (string and clarinet) and Dave had a recording of the Trio for clarinet, viola, and piano, both recording gems.

I struggled for so many hours back when I was 16 years old to sound just like my teachers playing Mozart. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the two rollicking fast movements that were difficult to play, it was that gorgeous Adagio middle movement that caused me to think about another line of work. The hours I spent attempting to play the opening melody smoothly, connecting each note perfectly so that the melody moves forward with such great ease and with great song, prevented me from leaving the confines of my basement practice room for at least 10 years. Wolfie, Dave, and Karl . . . all three of you taught me about song and about beauty. But guys . . . let’s face it . . . it was Wolfie who invented song and beauty.

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