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Chatter sets final 2019 performance

James Shields

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For its final performance of 2019, Chatter will breathe life into masterworks by Mozart and Igor Stravinsky.

Fifteen musicians will tackle Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto, as well as Mozart’s Concerto in A Major, the first major concerto written for clarinet.

Stravinsky is perhaps best known for his ballet trio: “Petrouschka,” “The Firebird” and “The Rite of Spring.”

Chatter associate artistic director and clarinetist James Shields has long been captivated by the Dumbarton concerto, written in the neoclassical style in 1837-38. It was the last piece the composer penned in Europe; he finished it in Paris. It was heavily inspired by Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

“It’s a really vibrant, fun and rhythmically exacting piece,” Shields said in a telephone interview from Portland, where he plays principal clarinet in the Oregon Symphony. “It’s got that bigger, virtuosic style, but the harmony is a little off. So it has these echoes of Baroque rhythms with modern harmonies.

“It’s echoes of Bach with Cubist harmonies.”

The Concerto in A Major was Mozart’s last. At the time of his death in 1791, the clarinet was still a relatively new instrument. Mozart wrote the piece for his clarinetist friend Anton Stadler. The work was intended for an extended instrument known as the basset clarinet. The basset could play four extra semi-tones lower than our modern instrument. Mozart took advantage of its acrobatic and dramatic possibilities.

“It’s a very sublime concerto,” Shields said.

Its slow movement – the adagio – has been used in films such as “Out of Africa.”

“It’s a major test piece for clarinetists and students,” Shields added. “You have to have grace and style in all the movements, even the faster technical stuff.”

Shields will be playing a custom-made instrument produced in Burnaby, Canada.

“Mozart really took advantage of this extended low range,” he said. “It’s almost operatic.”

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