Praise for European Adventure:
Los Angeles-based clarinetist Jennifer Showalter delivers clean and crisp performances of standard repertoire in her premiere CD, European Adventure. Currently adjunct professor of clarinet at Azusa Pacific University, Showalter previously served on the faculty of California State University Long Beach, Biola University, Long Beach City College and Pasadena City College. Showalter maintains an active studio of pre-collegiate clarinet students, filled with musicians who regularly earn first chair in honor ensembles. In addition, she is a member of the Pasadena Symphony Mentor and Tempo programs, and is the clarinet curriculum developer for Maestro Concept.
Showalter’s pedagogical background makes her repertoire selection a natural choice. This disc contains standard works that are studied by advanced clarinetists: music by Arnold, Debussy, Stravinsky, Brahms and Lovreglio’s La Traviata Fantasia.
Throughout the recording, Showalter places emphasis on technical precision, and her interpretations stay true to the printed page. At no point does she utilize excessive rubato or emotive filigree. In addition, her technical prowess is evident, as she handles every line with fluidity and grace. Technical integrity is never compromised to achieve a melodic line, yet her phrasing is sweet and delicate, providing a true rendition of the composer’s intentions.
The disc opens with a stunning performance of Malcolm Arnold’s Sonatina. The flashy finger work of the outer movements is displayed with integrity, while the middle movement displays a tenderness of line and phrasing. In the Debussy Premiere Rhapsodie, Showalter stays true to the printed tempi while evoking the ethereal quality of Impressionism. In particular, the long lines of the opening section sound effortless, as do the arpeggios of the final page. The Three Pieces by Stravinsky allows Showalter the opportunity to again display her technical prowess, especially in the third movement. The entire work is effortlessly performed, belying the difficulty level of the composition. The second Brahms Sonata provides a break in the otherwise technique-filled recording. Showalter handles the phrasing well. Good interplay with the pianist is evident, and emphasis is placed on evoking the chamber qualities of this work. Finally, Fantasia on Themes from La Traviata by Lovreglio affords both listener and performer the opportunity to engage in musical fun, the hallmark of every fantasy on 19th-century operatic themes. Throughout, Showalter takes care to clarify the main ideas while performing the technical passages with integrity.
European Adventure is a lovely addition to any music library. It is particularly relevant for clarinet students and teachers, as it contains five standard works. The interpretations are accessible, and provide a good foundation for students learning these pieces. Showalter admirably handles both the technical and musical aspects these works, and is to be commended for her recording.
Feature Article: Fanfare Magazine July/August 2010 "Have Clarinet, Will Travel: Jennifer Showalter's First European Adventure" As a longtime reviewer for this magazine, I've consistently decried the notion that classical music is a done deal that belongs more in a museum than as a living, constantly evolving, and increasingly vibrant art in our ongoing lives. Having raised two musician daughters who embrace Billie Holiday, the Beatles, doo wop, and Central Asian throat singing along with the music of countless Medieval and Renaissance composers, Brahms' German Requiem, Mozart's C-Minor Mass, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Bartok's string quartets, Gubaidulina's microtonal musings, and the multicultural, multi-genre music of Osvaldo Golijov with equal musicological insight and delight, I am gratified that my first youthful exposures, reactions, and fulfillments from this world are far from unique. I am equally amazed at the routine levels of our young instrumental practitioners, levels undreamt of a generation or so ago. In preparation for this Fanfare issue, I was sent a vanity press release by a young clarinetist named Jennifer Showalter. My knee-jerk reaction to this kind of offering was, oh well, here we go again. The first thing that struck me, however, was the choice of repertoire, from the little-played and delicious Malcolm Arnold Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano, through the warhorse-status Debussy Premiere Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano and Brahms' poetically autumnal Sonata in Eb Major, op. 120/2. Along the way she tackled Igor Stravinsky's highly compressed and eloquent Three Pieces for clarinet solo, and ended the recital with a quite obscure 19th-century fantasy on operatic themes from La Traviata by one Donato Lovreglio. Her performances of all of this were technically impeccable. What struck me particularly were her insights into so much music of differing languages. After having sketched the review, presented below, Joel Flegler notified me that a feature article on Showalter was in the offing and asked me if I were interested. Without hesitation I answered that I was. There was, alas, a geographic barrier. She resides on the West Coast, and I in the wilds of New Jersey. In lieu of a face-to-face interview, I sent the newly married Jennifer Showalter a list of questions via e-mail. Following is the transcript.
Q: Hearing your recording and reading your resume, I came away with the sense that you have packed at least a couple of lifetime's worth of achievements into an amazingly few years. Were you born into a musical family, and had, therefore, a favorable genetic disposition toward music?
A: I was born into an artistic family. My father was a graphic designer and artist. He performed in the marching band and dance band in high school. I grew up visiting museums, attending plays and concerts, seeing my father's graphics and artwork, and singing along and harmonizing with records. When I took up the clarinet, it felt comfortable to me right away.
Q: What inspired you to take up that particular instrument?
A: I knew that I wanted to play an instrument as soon as possible. At my elementary school, I was able to start band in summer school after third grade. My mother suggested the clarinet because she thought that it wouldn't be too loud. She probably changed her mind on that over the years! I stayed with the instrument because it was very expressive and reminded me of singing.
Q: As a youngster, who were your musical heroes?
A: I grew up listening to all types of music, jazz, Broadway, classical, pop, and sacred, so I had a great many favorites. My first love was anything with voice. In school I also sang in several choirs and played sax in the jazz band.
Q: On a purely practical level and as a defunct string player (violin), I know how heat, cold, humidity, dryness, etc. can screw up your instrument. What special problems (if any) do clarinetists have?
A: Our instruments wear out the more that you play them, so we always have to be on the lookout for our next instruments. Also, reed choice is always an issue. The goal is to balance resonance and response, while maintaining consistent tone quality. Like string players, we also have to keep our instruments in even temperatures and humidity so that we don't damage the wood.
Q: Well, now to focus on the next phase of your training, which took you to Northwestern University and ultimately to tutelage from former principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Clark Brody, and from former principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra Robert Marcellus. How was it to study with such luminaries?
A: It was a great privilege! They presented a different approach from that which I had been taught on the West Coast. It was exactly what I was looking for. I still use many of their wonderful ideas in my performing and teaching, particularly those having to do with embouchure and phrasing.
Q: I've read that you have performed in a number of master classes, most notably one conducted by the world-storming Sabine Meyer. (She had been, after all, sponsored by Herbert von Karajan for the post of the Berlin Philharmonic's principal clarinet.) Did you find the great Sabine Meyer intimidating?
A: I had the opportunity to perform at a master class for her at the University of Oklahoma Clarinet Symposium. She was delayed and the first performers started performing for other festival faculty. Just as I was preparing to perform, she suddenly arrived. I didn't have time to be nervous! She really reinforced and empowered us all with her great ranges in both mood and dynamics.
Q: Your resume mentions your pre-college clarinet studio. Could you define its activities for our readers?
A: I teach weekly private lessons to primarily middle school and high school students. Many of them have studied with me for years, and they participate in their school band programs, as well as many youth orchestras, honor bands, chamber groups, and solo competitions.
Q: How do you define your pre-college clarinet studio's ultimate mission?
A: I endeavor to equip my students with skills that they can use in all areas of their lives, such as self-confidence. I encourage them to find their own expressive voice. In our lessons, I work to train them to get around the instrument more easily, to develop a love for the clarinet and music, and to redefine excellence in all that they do. I help them prepare for any musical opportunities that they are interested in pursuing.
Q: Before having been given this feature article assignment, I had already roughed out my review of your debut European Adventure CD. I thought your choice of repertoire provided an effective platform upon which to display many contrasting aspects of your artistry. In your own words, what inspired you to choose those particular pieces and to sequence them as found on the disc?
A: I'm so pleased that you picked up on my desire to demonstrate as much musical range as possible! I also hoped to convey how expressive, dramatic, and diverse the clarinet could be. My goal was to pick great pieces that would stand on their own individually, as well as to program them in a sequence that flowed smoothly from one piece to the next, like in a live recital.
Q: Tell me how you came to produce this disc yourself, rather than approaching a company such as MSR or Albany, or Naxos, where the only requirement is to provide them with an edited master?
A: I knew that, for me, recording CDs was the reason that I went to music school and what I dreamed of doing one day. My vision was to approach the project as an integrated whole, where all aspects work together, from the musical performances and sound quality to the general theme and photographs, to the type and program notes, and to the graphics. I felt that I could best achieve this by retaining artistic control. For this first solo CD, I really took my time to create the finished project that I wanted. My father was certainly a help to me and created my wonderful logo.
Q: What are your future recording plans?
A: I am already in the planning stage for my next solo CD. It should be much quicker to produce now that I have been through the entire process and have a great production team in place! I also really enjoyed producing, and I hope to do more of that in the future for other artists.
Q: Is there anything that you would like to add that I have not asked?
A: It was the realization of a dream to produce European Adventure, and I made many personal sacrifices to make it happen. I hope that listeners will appreciate my efforts.
Q: Given the evidence here, that is a foregone conclusion.
Review: EUROPEAN ADVENTURE Jennifer Showalter (cl); Joel Clifft (pn) www.jennifershowalter.com CD 1001 (56:49) Available from jennifershowalter.com ARNOLD Sonatina. DEBUSSY Premiere Rhapsodie. STRAVINSKY 3 Pieces for clarinet solo. BRAHMS Clarinet Sonata No. 2. LOVREGLIO Fantasia da Concerto on Verdi's La Traviata.
The clarinet is an unforgivingly treacherous instrument. In the wrong hands and lips it can create sounds matching chalk scraping on a blackboard. In the right hands, it can create sounds the subtlety and supple expressiveness of which inspired both Mozart and Brahms. The first thing that struck me in auditioning this release was Jennifer Showalter's sheer beauty of tone. The second was the ease with which she could modulate its colors to the demands of the music. With the contrasting but satisfying sounds of the likes of Stanley Drucker, Gervase de Peyer, Karl Leister, David Shifrin, Emma Johnson, Richard Stoltzman, and Harold Wright ringing in my inner ears, I can say without hesitation that the young Jennifer Showalter belongs in this august company. Singers and all instrumental practitioners share one thing in common, the very sound that they produce, bereft of their interpretative instincts, goes a long way toward defining their appeal, or lack thereof. Some years ago, while discussing the cellist Yuli Turovsky in these pages, I stated that were he playing only scales and arpeggios, the result would be musically arresting. Again, Showalter's sound alone has more than a dollop of this kind of magic. Her choice of repertoire on this, her first CD, is telling; a mix of the familiar and the obscure; the acerbically minimalist and the lushly Romantic. Of the comparatively little-known, she offers Malcolm Arnold's 1951 Sonatina, op. 29. Arnold is justly renowned for his orchestral music; I found this alternately piquant and lyrically haunting foray into chamber music, composed with clarinetist Frederick Thurston in mind, utterly disarming. Stravinsky's spiky and challenging Three Pieces for clarinet solo, composed in 1919 for Swiss clarinetist Werner Reinhart, presents further challenges for any clarinetist. It breathes the same air as A Soldier's Tale, but with its chamber ensemble boiled down to a single one-line instrumental voice. Here Showalter is verily working without a net, but is fearlessly up to the task. Of Debussy's familiar Premiere Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano, the best praise I can bestow onto Showalter and her piano collaborator, Joel Clifft, is that they sound quintessentially French. This is, indeed, a sweet and beguilingly colorful performance of the piece. Showalter/Clifft's performance of Brahms' op. 120/2 sonata is one of the most ruminative and subtly expressive performances of this warhorse to come my way. The op. 120 sonatas are, to me (if you will excuse my chronological license here), Brahms' parallel to Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs. How the young Showalter found such insights into this profoundly autumnal work, music so full of nostalgia, of Brahms' palpable sense of impending death, and of his bittersweet resignation over it all, can only be chalked up to the miracle of the art of music, and to Showalter's uncanny sensitivity to what its mere notes on paper can convey. The final piece, Donato Lovreglio's (1841-1907) Fantasia da Concerto, based on motives from Verdi's La Traviata, should, by rights, be a mere piece of musical fluff offered up at the end of a recital as a sort of musical dessert. It is all that here, but once again, Showalter, in her realization of its moments of touching lyricism, offers so much more. Throughout this release, her partner, Joel Clifft, is hand in glove with her. Here Clifft, who has made an impressive career as an accompanist, conjures up the ghost of Gerald Moore. The sound is excellent, easily conveying both Showalter's and Clifft's timbral subtleties. My 800-horsepower system smiled many times in the course of playing this disc, as did I. William Zagorski This article originally appeared in Issue 33:6 (July/Aug 2010) of Fanfare Magazine.
Bravo to Jennifer Showalter on her beautiful playing throughout this CD! I know how challenging it is to play the different styles of Debussy to Stravinsky to Brahms...and she did it all so well. I also really liked the CD design and the extensive program notes. Ms. Showalter can be very proud of how this project turned out and I wish her continued success!"
'European Adventure' from Jennifer Showalter is a 'must listen' for all my clarinet and woodwind students. Ms. Showalter's exquisite interpretations and flawless technique guarantee a truly rewarding listening experience!"