january, 2019

13jan4:00 pmDebussy, Saint Saëns and Gabaye: The Genius of French Clarinet Music


Event Details

On January 13th, we are excited to welcome back one of our favorite Ensemble Les Amis (ELA) friends, Li Cong, in an all French clarinet and piano recital.  He of course is a clarinetist with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, a founding ELA member, as well as a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory. Li Cong, who is equally at home on the clarinet as he is on the piano, is joined in this recital by Peng Zhiqing, who is also a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory in collaborative piano and a graduate of the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. This is professor Peng’s first performance at Glam and we welcome her warmly.

Our program consists of three French masterpieces written for clarinet and piano with jazzy influences sprinkled here and there.  The first, Claude Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano, was written in 1910 as an examination piece, a requirement for Debussy having been been named to the board of the Paris Conservatory.  From that rather functional beginning, the piece has gone on to become one of the major staples of the clarinet repertory.  Debussy arranged an equally popular orchestral version in 1911.  The Rhapsody, known to be devilishly difficult, displays  many of Debussy’s distinctive attributes.  Like The Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, to which the Rhapsody has some distant similarities, the sound of the clarinet, like the flute in the Faun, is absolutely essential and idiomatic to the piece.  That is to say, the instrumental sound is an equal partner in the composition along with harmony, structure, melody etc.  (Contrast Brahms’s magnificent clarinet sonatas which can be very successfully played on the viola.) The piece also looks forward to Debussy’s later and looser, unpredictable, improvisatory forms (e.g. the ballet Jeux). Furthermore, Debussy was revered by many later jazz musicians. Works like the Rhapsody could be seen as having an influence on jazz music with its emphasis on sheer tone quality, improvisatory style and a certain bluesy-ness. 

The second piece, Camille Saint-Saëns’ late Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, although written over a decade after the Debussy, takes us back to an earlier conservative era.  It is a beloved staple of the clarinet repertory. Written in his last year, 1921, it was part of what Saint-Saëns intended to be a series of six woodwind sonatas, but only three were completed before his death.  Early in Saint-Saëns’ long career he was an outspoken fan of the avant-garde music of the day like Wagner and Liszt.  He was at times even considered unpatriotic for fostering Germanic forms of music like symphonies, concertos and sonatas in France where opera and ballet were king.  By the end of his life he had become something of a reactionary and said a modern composer like Debussy was one who “grunts his way through music as a pig through a flower garden.” 

In the last piece on the program, Pierre Gabaye’s Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano,  Gabaye writes in a cheerful, neoclassical style reminiscent of his compatriots Francis Poulenc and Jean Francaix. As the Director of Light Music for ORTF in Paris, he was influential both classical and popular music circles.  If Debussy looks forward to a certain kind of jazz, Gabaye fully absorbed the American idiom.  The second movement of the Sonatina in particular evokes more the Manhattan skyline than the City of Lights! 

Please join us at 4:00pm on January 13, 2019 for this superb program.  Although this music is very accessible, as always a little pre-listening will never hurt:

Claude Debussy, Première Rhapsodie pour Clarinette et Orchestra (to contrast with the original piano accompaniment that we will hear.)


Camille Saint-Saëns, Sonate pour Clarinette et Piano


Pierre Gabaye, Sonatine pour Clarinette et Piano


Event detail:

Where: Glam, No.5 The Bund (corner of Guangdong Lu) 广东路20号(外滩5号)7楼
When: 13 Jan 2019 – 4 pm
Tickets: 150 RMB/85 RMB




(Sunday) 4:00 pm



No.5 The Bund (corner of Guangdong Lu)