Clarinet Concerto

Kimmo Hakola

Kimmo Hakola is one of Finland’s major composers, and his Clarinet Concerto is responsible for part of his worldwide acclaim. It was dedicated to his friend, the remarkable Finnish clarinetist Kari Kriikku. This concert marks the U.S. premiere of the concerto.

The American journalist and music critic, Allan Kozinn noted; “his music scampers about mischievously, mixing together shapely lyricism, atonality, quirky folkishness, and an almost hedonistic approach to timbre and rhythm. And when he proves titles or character indications, he willfully subverts them… he appears to have sidestepped the century-long debate about the merits of tonality and refused to join any philosophical or stylistic camp.”  He is not iconoclastic, nor an enfant terrible, he is simply himself, loving folk music, zippy and complex rhythmic patterns, virtuosity, and Asian inflections.”

This musical fingerprint can be experienced throughout his Clarinet Concerto, written in 2001. The concerto is written in four movements. The Introduzione opens with fast rhythmic pulses, and the clarinet leaps fearlessly into the tumult. Hakola’s music sounds jazzy, cool, and impudent. There is no main theme, but rather an acrobatic display of virtuosity at the highest level. The soloist plays almost nonstop throughout the movement, moving seamlessly in all registers, sometimes singing lyrically, chirping, and sometimes producing, out of the blue, “twisted wrong notes.” Orchestral accompaniment is fast, as if goading the clarinet into more and more activity.  At the close, the music moves into a winsome little tune in a cadenza maintained for the most part in soft dynamics. The tempi herein change frequently and there are small pauses.  Before long, however, timpani and brass enter the scene, coaxing the clarinet into a snappy conclusion.

Hidden Songs opens quietly, with none of the hustle and bustle from the Introduction. At first, the soloist maintains a lyrical line over discreet accompaniment and then moves into a meditative solo. The tempo is relaxed, and rhythms are gentle. Gradually, the orchestra supports the solo line with soft pulses, but never moves to the forefront. Midway, the orchestra does gain a stronger presence in a richly orchestrated section colored by timpani and brass. In contrast, clarinet resumes its starring cantabile roll, this time supported by the harp. From time to time timpani interrupt the serenity, but never overwhelming the grace and poise of the lyricism. At the close, notice the strange notes permeating the song-like atmosphere.

Allegro favara opens in a playful mood, with unexpected turns and twists in the major idea. As the soloist jostles with the tune, low parts and percussion of the orchestra respond with rhythmic infusions and deep, contrasting coloration. There are oriental inflections in the melodic line ( Mongolian effects) which add exotic spice to the solo part. Toward the conclusion, the orchestra takes the limelight with an infectious, jazzy section, responded to by the clarinet in lighthearted partnership, zipping quickly between the low and high registers. Finally, the scene ignites into fast gestures, bumped along by sustained tones in the low brass. Gradually, the music becomes increasingly chaotic, tumultuous, ragged, syncopated, and aggressive.

The last movement Khasense (Yiddish for wedding) opens with a shout, and then immediately presents a rapid percussive rhythm while a sinuous line, decorated by occasional swirls, is assigned to the clarinet.  A percussive element suddenly emerges in the background and the soloist gains momentum, which is echoed by violins. A set of thick chords in 6/8 stops the acceleration, and the tempo changes swiftly as the clarinet slinks slowly above the steadily reiterated chords. After a second bit of vocal noise, the movement moves into a dance-like section, swirling and twirling with high accents. The clarinet enters in its high register to join in the fun and energy with extraordinary sounds and leaping passages. The movement grows into dramatic intensity, with occasional “silly sounds” from the soloist.  At the close, we move to a final tune, which is similar to a rough version of snake charmer style, which coils into a massive frenzy until the abrupt, thumping conclusion.

This is the first ISO performance of Hakola’s Clarinet Concerto.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016

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Program Notes