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April 30: Hanick Hawley Duo Makes Album Debut with A Gentle Notion, Celebrating Past 50 Years of American Music for Clarinet & Piano

A Gentle Notion represents the past, present and future of American music for clarinet and piano and strives to revitalize the sound of classical music recordings.” – Hanick Hawley Duo

With A Gentle Notion, the Hanick Hawley Duo celebrates the past half-century of American music for clarinet and piano. A radio-friendly collection that marks their duo album debut, the new recording presents clarinetist Richie Hawley and pianist Conor Hanick in the clarinet sonatas of Aaron Copland, Jennifer Higdon and Pierre Jalbert, together with WingsJoan Tower’s tour-de-force for solo clarinet – and the title track, an evocative Higdon miniature. Both this short piece and Jalbert’s sonata, which was commissioned and written for the duo, are heard here in world premiere recordings. By working with two of today’s greatest living composers and integrating their work with modern classics of the genre, the duo hopes to reinvigorate the repertoire for their instruments. Due for release on April 30 by Hawley’s own label, Il Pirata Records, A Gentle Notion was produced by the clarinetist himself. Eschewing traditional classical production methods for innovative recording and mixing techniques, he places the listener directly alongside the musicians, capturing the resonance, texture and immediacy of an authentic onstage experience. Click here to see the Hanick Hawley Duo talk about A Gentle Notion.

“An intellectually astute, and technically untouchable clarinetist” (Casa magazine), Richie Hawley is known for the “expression and tonal beauty” (American Record Guide) of his playing. He appears on more than 60 recordings as principal clarinet of the Cincinnati Symphony, and has been honored at the White House as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. Pianist Conor Hanick, whose “technical refinement, color, crispness and wondrous variety of articulation benefit works by any master” (New York Times), has collaborated with conductors including Pierre Boulez, Alan Gilbert and David Robertson. He has premiered more than 200 new compositions, including more than a dozen personally dedicated pieces for solo piano.

The two met seven years ago at Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West, where they are both members of the teaching faculty. They went on to perform together regularly at the summer festival and school. It was there that they collaborated two seasons ago on Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, giving what the Santa Barbara Independent described as “a molten, continuously evolving ensemble effort, leaving the audience stunned and transported.”

Similarly, it was there that they gave 2015’s world premiere performance of Pierre Jalbert’s Clarinet Sonata. A Music Academy of the West commission, Jalbert’s sonata was the inspiration for the present recording. Hanick explains:

“For us, it was important that this album shine a light on all the extraordinary music that is being written by American composers for clarinet and for clarinet and piano. The Jalbert served as something of a jumping-off point. It was one of the first projects that we did together, and it was such a positive, exciting experience to play something new: to have the composer in the room with us, writing for us. I think it will become one of the real showstoppers in the repertoire.”

“An acknowledged chamber-music master” (New Yorker), whose honors include the Rome Prize and BBC Masterprize, Jalbert has developed a musical language that is engaging, expressive and deeply personal. He recalls:

“It was an honor to write a work for these two amazing artists, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of working closely with Richie and Conor to bring the piece to the stage. It was a truly collaborative effort. As for the recordings, their vividness and intimacy are incredible, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.”

Jalbert’s is one of three major clarinet sonatas that anchor the new recording. Copland’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, which dates from the composer’s final decade, was adapted from his own Sonata for Violin and Piano, written between the landmark ballets Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. For Hawley and Hanick, the sonata’s clarinet and piano incarnation is the “golden oldie” of their program. They explain:

“Its influence is felt throughout. The sonata’s harmonic language, rhythmic interplay and orchestration is the point of departure for the other music on the album and itself stands as a totem of the American style.”

Click here to see Hawley and Hanick play the Lento from Copland’s Clarinet Sonata.

As a pillar of the 20th-century repertoire, Copland’s sonata implicitly informs the musical language of those that followed, including that of Pulitzer Prize laureate and three-time Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon. A friend of Hawley’s, alongside whom he studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Higdon also drew on an earlier string composition to create her Clarinet Sonata. Adapted from her own Sonata for Viola and Piano, the Clarinet Sonata is, say Hawley and Hanick, “a contemporary classic of the genre [that] showcases Higdon’s gifts for melody, texture and structure.” They note, “There’s no doubt this work will sit alongside the Copland Sonata as a fixture in the repertoire.”

Hawley and Hanick were introduced to A Gentle Notion by the composer, who included a score to the relatively unknown miniature with an order for her other music. This was fortuitous; when the two played through the work at their recording session, they found it a perfect fit for their project. Originally composed for Ned Rorem’s 90th birthday, the piece is, in Hawley’s words, “a delicious dessert and a magical few minutes of musical collaboration.” He adds: “The piece feels very improvisatory and there’s a great dialogue between the two voices. It gives the impression of discovering itself in real time.” Higdon herself responds:

“I’m truly honored to be on this disc. Richie and Conor’s impeccable musicianship and gorgeous tone are a composer’s dream to have conveying those little notes that I labor to put on a page.”

Click here to see the Hanick Hawley Duo play A Gentle Notion.

Having devoted most of the recording to works in which their instruments play equally important creative roles, the duo chose to complete A Gentle Notion with Wings, an extraordinary work for solo clarinet by Grammy winner Joan Tower, “one of the most successful woman composers of all time” (New Yorker). Hawley describes Wings as “a clarinet solo of such ferocious virtuosity and contrapuntal complexity that one practically needs an extra arm to execute its challenges.” Hanick adds:

“It felt important to showcase this amazing piece. There’s so much counterpoint and richness. To have that as the centerpiece of our album felt like a good thing.”

About the sound production

For both musicians, the recording’s production values were of primary importance. Hanick says:

“It was a priority with this album to recreate the feeling of making music together, on stage in close proximity, and trying to translate that into an auditory experience for the listener.”

To capture that kind of sonic immediacy, Hawley developed new recording and mixing techniques that turned the typical classical concert experience on its head. He says:

“The primary sound is from directly on stage right by us, a foot away from the instruments. The sound of the hall comes second, because that’s how we hear it as performers: we hear our own sound first and foremost and the hall as this beautiful packaging in the distance. Whereas the audience hears the exact opposite. They hear this fluffy, soothing, wet acoustic of the reverberation, and then somewhere in the distance, from 30 rows away, they hear the sound of the instruments. Which is great – but they’re missing some of the dynamics and expression that you get right up close.”

As Hawley concludes:

“I’m so proud of this album because I think we learned a lot in the process about how to take the dream we had and translate it into sonic reality. I’m delighted that it turned out as well as it did.”

Click here to pre-order A Gentle Notion, here to download high-resolution photos and here to download a digital copy of the album booklet.

A Gentle Notion
The Hanick Hawley Duo
Richie Hawley, clarinet; Conor Hanick, piano
Label: Il Pirata Records
Release date: April 30

Clarinet Sonata (Andante semplice; Lento; Allegretto giusto)

A Gentle Notion

Wings for solo clarinet

Clarinet Sonata (Calmly; Declamatory)

Clarinet Sonata (Dramatic and driving; Timeless, mysterious; Presto agitato)

Single release date: April 2

AARON COPLAND: Lento from Clarinet Sonata
Single release date: April 16

Recording engineer: Andy Bradley
Editing and mixing: Richie Hawley
Mastering: Silas Brown

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© 21C Media Group, April 2021


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