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"Some music assumes that the performer will become its joint creator": interview with Kamil Dolezal.

The clarinet is an instrument with huge possibilities, since it is what is called "flexible" and usable in almost any kind of chamber ensemble. In terms of sound it never sticks out in a way that upsets the integrity of the whole, but nonetheless has a colour that is always clearly identifiable. Contemporary composers and in fact what is called "modern music" in general are very fond of using it, but of course this makes corresponding demands on the performer, who must ideally be highly competent, technically perfect and at the same time capable of individual input into compositions and improvisation.

One such ideal clarinettist is Kamil Dolezal, whose studies with the legendary Milan Kostohryz might said to have predestined him to an interest in contemporary music from an early stage. He attended the Conservatory in Prague and the Musical Academy of Performing Arts, and in 1975 won 1st Prize in the Dusek-Mozart Competition in Prague. From 1987 to 1994 he was a member of the Agon Ensemble, and these days he is involved in performance of contemporary music as a soloist at his concerts, as the music director of the Mondschein Ensemble and as a member of the alternative group Why Not Patterns. He has played on a number of CDs, and in 1995 recorded his first solo CD "Czech Contemporary Clarinet Music".

You are a versatile performer, and many compositions have been written for you. How would you characterize yourself, your way of playing the clarinet? Do you have your own special style or tone or something similar?

It's hard to characterise yourself, but for me it has always been the music that is the main consideration, and that's why I like listening to piano, violin and symphony orchestra, and I've learned from that. Otherwise every player has a specific tone and style, but the layman usually doesn't recognise it. What is certainly recognisable, however, is whether you play well or badly, in an interesting way or boringly.

How did you come to decide to focus on contemporary music? When did it happen?

I've been involved in contemporary music since the time I was at the Prague Conservatory, where I was studying in Prof. Dr. Milan Kostohryz's class, and he made that path very much easier for me. He was one of the few teachers with an active interest in the performance of contemporary music and he initiated his students into it in an enlightened spirit.

But the fundamental turning point came later, when I was collaborated with the AGON Ensemble and as a result attended the summer courses on contemporary music in Darmstadt in 1988, where I was taught by Rodger Heaton.

Is there a big difference between playing classical repertoire and what is called the "modern", and if so what exactly is it?

From the point of view of the performer, we can divide contemporary music into two currents to answer the question. One current follows on closely from classical music and simply makes increased demands on the performer in terms of the technical possibilities of play on his or her instrument. This music is popular among performers and is often played. Essentially these increased technical demands were the only difference between playing contemporary music up to 1960 and the classical repertoire.

The second current is concerned with different possibilities as well, most of the aesthetic (changing the quality of the note, certain deformations of tone--frullato, smorzatto, multiphonics, playing in extreme registers and with extreme dynamics and so on). Some of this kind of music assumes that the performer will be a joint creator, and so of course here you need to know what is going on in this music and what you can and cannot do.

What attracts contemporary composers to the clarinet? What is the specific character of the instrument?

What principally attracts contemporary composers to the clarinet is its range, its dynamic and colour possibilities, mobility and its capacity to deform notes in various ways. These are all qualities that are often used in contemporary music.

It's said that an interpreter matures with every piece, and learns something new. Which music has been fundamental or a turning point in your development?

The music and the composers that have had a basic influence on my view of contemporary music and my play on the clarinet are these. John Cage, who in his pieces gives the performer the chance to decide quite freely which version to use at any moment, but at the same time his music has consistent rules. His music makes extreme demands on the interpreter both technically, and in various different ways of playing, tone and so forth. The situation is a little different as regards other pieces that have had a fundamental influence on me, since in these cases everything is written down and fixed and the performer can't change anything in the music. For me these key pieces are: K. H. Stockhausen: In Freundschaft, M. Kopelent: Canto Espansivo, H. Lachenmann: Al Niente.

Do you play pieces written directly for you in a different way?

That depends. Sometimes there can be a problem when you know the composer personally and you want to oblige him at any price but in your heart of hearts you feel that it's not the right thing. But mostly it's an advantage to know the composer personally and be able to discuss the piece with him. I call that authenticity, and it's important primarily for the performers who will come after you. But I also personally think that some contemporary music is so specific that standard musical notation isn't enough, and the piece needs to be equipped with guidelines on how to perform it correctly, since otherwise the composer risks having performers interpreting his aims in an entirely opposite way to whatever was intended.

You have played a great many contemporary pieces, and premiered quite a number of them. In your view does there exist some kind of Czech school of composers today?

There isn't any Czech school of composition at all today, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

You yourself try to promote the clarinet with young composers. How do things look at such courses?

Today most composers know nearly all the possibilities of the clarinet and so the main need is to demonstrate the possibilities in reality, so that composers can check that their compositions aren't operating in the world of science fiction.

What happens for example at a MoEns rehearsal when you get a new piece? Do you take any kind of controlling line?

Each member of the ensemble prepares his part at home and then we look for a common starting point at our rehearsal. The personal comments and suggestions of each player are more than just desirable, so long as they don't diverge too far from what the composer wanted. If so, then I have to intervene.

Apart from "serious" music, you are also at home with what is known as alternative music (or just no-serious music). Are you very much aware of some difference, or is it something you take for granted?

Yes, I play in the WNP (Why Not Patterns) group, which plays its own pieces (M. Pudlak, M. Nejtek, R. Pallas etc.) and this music might be described as something between minimal music, rock, classical and alternative. I'll leave it to you to come up with your own opinion about it, or better, why not come and hear us? You won't regret it.

Performing this music is a kind of creative quest. In some of the pieces the demands and form of play are the same as in classical music except that the performer has much greater freedom and can enrich the music with own personal input.

Do you think that you can influence the atmosphere at a concert in some way? I mean in some way change the mood of the public? Or it is something that no one can do much about and essentially the old equation applies-serious music = stiff public, non-serious music = more relaxed, accessible public?

Of course the performer can affect the atmosphere at a concert. It depends on many different things, such as how he is dressed, his manner, how he communicates with the public, what kind of charisma he has and above all what he plays and how well he plays it. The difference between serious and other kinds of music is clear as day, and so is the difference between the audiences. But by saying that I don't mean that someone who passionately listens to serious music can't also passionately listen to other music.
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Author:Velicka, Eva
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 1, 2003
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