A Whirlwind Woodwind Tour
By Nigel Thorpe
Brief snatches of an orchestra tuning up wafted, like a musical appetizer, through the cool evening air of the theatre before the “quintet” began its whirlwind woodwind tour through Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Austria and the United States. The arrangement of the six chairs on stage also teased the audience’s attention - why were six chairs needed for a quintet? The Principal clarinet player, Werner Hubendorfer, who founded the group in 1995 in Berlin, would explain this mystery during his brief, but informative introductions to each piece. “The instruments we use,” he explained at the beginning of the performance, “ depend on the needs of each piece. Sometimes we are four, sometimes five, and sometimes all six players will be playing together.” Werner’s brief introductions added greatly to the unity and interest of the evening’s chamber music.
The musical tour started in France with three light and delightful pieces form Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. The slow undulating melodies of the third movement played by a duet of clarinet and bassoon sent gentle rhythmic waves of harmonious sound washing softly over the Theatre’s ancient stone work. The audience floated in the hypnotic sea of sound. The combination of reed instruments in the quintet achieved the balance of a human choir with the bass tones of the bassoon complementing the tenor of the clarinets, and the shrill soprano notes of the piccolo and flute.
“When should you clap?” is the perennial problem faced by western concert audiences. The nervous spattering of applause between the movements of a work is disconcerting to both the players and the more knowledgeable members of their audience. The Artemis audience had the same problem at the beginning of the recital but soon learnt that the players stood up when they reached the end of the last movement. Players also joined or left the stage between pieces. The “anchor players” (the principal clarinet (Werner Hubendorfer), oboe (Armin Liebich), flute (Susanne Hubendorfer) and bassoon (Friedhelm Grote) were joined sometimes by a second clarinet (Bernd Sauer), sometimes by a piccolo, (Ursula Grote) and sometimes by both the extra clarinet and the piccolo) depending upon the musical demands of the piece. This simple device added freshness and variety to the performance.
The ensemble stayed in France, but traveled forwards two centuries in time, to play a piece by Eugene Bozza, a modern French composer who died ten years ago at the age of 86. The modern western music blended unintentionally with the age-old call to prayer as the “quintet”, now down to four (clarinet, bassoon, oboe and flute), gave an immaculate performance of the haunting melodies of Bozza’s concerto.
After a brief introduction from Werner, the “quintet’s” number grew to six as a second clarinet and piccolo joined the group for a trip to Italy and a performance of an overture to one of Rossini’s operas.
Werner set his audience a musical puzzle at the beginning of the next piece by refusing to name the country they would visit next on their musical tour. “Listen, and you will know where we are,” he said in his excellent English. The staccato trills of the superb piccolo solo bore the hallmark of Sousa’s American march music. True to his word, the Werner’s ensemble conjured up the image of the Stars and Stripes waving above the stage. Although Sousa was American, his father was born in Spain of Portuguese parents.
Werner’s next announcement was more informative as he told the audience that they had returned to Europe again for a beautiful calm waltz by the French composer Claude Debussy. The theatre’s patron, Artemis, the Greek Goddess of Hunting, nature and the moon, would surely have approved of the romantic adagio passages. Fittingly, the mellow beams of a waxing harvest moon shone down into the Greek theatre that had long ago lost its wood and tile roof.
The highly distinctive style of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart announced that the Quintet had arrived in Austria. The final musical “stop-over” was in Bulgaria. All too soon, the musical journey that held its audience spellbound for one hour was at an end. The ensemble’s immaculate technique and sublime interpretations once again justified the Festival’s policy of bringing the very best of western culture and music to the Jerash. Performances of this standard made Jerash2000 a truly intentional festival
The Quintet have recorded many of the works included in their exquisite Jerash performance on a CD entitled “Tag und Nacht im Rhythmus” (Day and night rhythms)
The end of the concert was greeted by a three-minute standing ovation from the sixty-five members of audience remaining in the theatre. The quintet delighted their audience by agreeing to play an encore that proved in many ways to be the musical highlight of the evening. Warner warned the audience in advance to expect something a little different. “It would be,” he said with his usual economy of words, ”a musical joke.” The ensemble began by playing the opening to Beethoven’s fifth symphony in a grand and classical manner. After a few bars, however, the group were off on another of their lightening musical tours which began with a Bach fugue, then slipped into the syncopated rag-time rhythms of New Orleans’ Jazz, before ending in the Broadway symphonic style of George Gershwin. The encore was truly a musical tour de force and understandably earned the group their final standing ovation.
After prolonged applause, Abed el Rahim Ghannam, the Head of the Press Committee,
climbed up onto the stage to award the quintet a certificate of appreciation.
The principal clarinet player Werner Hubendorfer told Albawaba after the concert that his ensemble was really delighted with both the excellent acoustics of the Artemis Theatre, and the highly enthusiastic reception of the fifty-strong audience. “In some theatres,” he explained, “the acoustics on the stage are excellent but down amongst the audience they are poor. In other theatres, the music sounds great in the theatre, but poor on the stage. In the Artemis Thetre, the music sounds beautiful for both the players and the audience. I wandered up to the back of the theatre while the others were rehearsing and the music sounded really great. The atmosphere in Jerash is really special too,” he added. “Before coming to Jerash, we gave a performance in the Orthodoxy Club in Amman. We hope very much that we will receive an invitation to return sometime in the future. After a trip to the Dead Sea and Petra on Saturday, we fly back home to Germany.”
Werner’s closing words to the audience were that “it had been a pleasure and honor to play in Jerash.” It was certainly a great pleasure and honor for the audience to hear a recital by such accomplished musicians.
In the words of one of Mozart’s biographies, “in this world we may not be able to see Heaven, but in the music of great composers we can certainly hear it.” The audience had certainly spent a heavenly hour in the Artemis Theatre on Friday.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)