Downstream for clarinet and piano

Title: Downstream for clarinet and piano 
Composer: Jordan Nobles
Region: Vancouver, British Columbia
Date: 2000

I discovered this wonderful piece on Jordan’s website where there are links to an audio sample, and the score. Having heard some of Jordan’s works before, I was prepared to enter a new sound environment rich in overtones with an organic sense of flow. Downstream maintained my expectations and delivers much more through its simplicity and context. This piece has influence from Avro Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel  which is evident in the steady flowing piano part accompanying a slow melodic line. Downstreamhowever, explores a variety of colours in the steady piano line through the instruction for the pianist to leave the pedal down for the entire work. This allows for sounds to blur together creating an interesting array of overtones. The “melodic” line in the clarinet is not really a melody, but can be better described as an added colour to the pianos steady undulations, or an energy which emerges and disappears throughout the 8 minute work.

From the clarinetists point of view, Downstream does not require the technical acrobatics, and extended techniques typically  associated with contemporary Canadian repertoire (the clarinet doesn’t play any rhythmic value faster than half notes tied to whole notes). However, this work still has technical challenges. Each note beginning and ending is marked niente for the clarinet. In the lower and middle register this is easily achieved. Difficulty comes in the final two statements of the clarinet which are altissimo F sharps which must appear from nowhere, grow, and disappear to nothing. I found that using a long F sharp fingering  TR 123 C#|123 Eflat provided that stability I needed so that this note did not pop out.

In a discussion with Jordan he mentioned that he really likes the clarinets ability to enter from nowhere; allowing the sound to hit everyone in the audience ear at different times. Consequently, the beginnings of each note should not to be perfectly  timed entrances. To give more time for the note to grow, I started each note 2 beats early and ended two beats late just to be sure I could exploit this effect.

I could ramble on about clarinet-y things all day, but the real heart behind this work is in the context. In this piece the piano and clarinet have symbolic roles; the piano is a stream and the clarinet is a soul floating on the stream to heaven. Downstream is dedicated to Jordan’s aunt, a spiritual person, who believed that when she died, her soul floating on the stream to heaven, would be the journey for her soul. This accounts for the direction and trajectory of this work. The piano and clarinet begin in low registers and work through all 12 keys ascending to their highest registers. For me, understanding this context opened up a new emotional pallet to explore and appreciation for this work. My timing to perform this work came a week after the passing of my Uncle, so it had an even deeper impact on my connection with this piece.

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