Having returned from yet another Vogtland journey I have written a short account on my most recent clarinet aha-erlebnis. If you haven’t read anything about my previous Vogtland journeys you might want to do so (Part I and part II) before reading on, but I’m sure you’ll get the following just the same.
During my last Vogtland journey I finally played a clarinet made by Nico Sämann, the current owner and 4th generation master clarinet builder of Fa. W.O. Nürnberger in Markneukirchen (since 1895), Sachsen, Germany. Setting aside my shame for not having played one of his instruments earlier, the moment was finally there. And what a moment it was… absolutely mind blowing.
We planned a longer trip to the Vogtland this year, so we could have a bit more time catching up with Nico and his family and reserve an entire afternoon just playing and talking clarinets. The studio visit started with looking at the new clarinets Nico is making, some of his new design ideas and playing my very own clarinet made by Winfried Nürnberger, Nico’s grandfather. There’s always a great sense of coming home when visiting the Vogtland and the Nürnberger studio, but I always suffer the same performance anxiety playing for the Nürnberger family. I always try to play at my very best showing the full potential of their instruments. But of course that is all me, and there couldn’t be a more warm, patient and welcoming enthousiasm for my playing than that of Nico’s.
Those of you who know me already know that I always try to have a moment with the one remaining bass clarinet made by Winfried. And it usually takes me a while to find the courage to ask Nico if it’s still there. Nico then apologises for the state in which it is in (it was made in ’72 and has been played by many clarinettists as a sort of demo instrument), and I try my best to tame this huge, wild and – to me at least – a respectfully stubborn bass. My playing then consists of many, at times microtonal, short moments and movements in which I discover new and unspoken of worlds of clarinet music making, air-, flow and creativeness. It’s a jaunt every time.
This time after playing the bass, Nico asked if I wanted to play a clarinet made by himself. And I suddenly realised that I never played a clarinet made by Nico before! Somehow every time I visited after he took over Fa. W.O. Nürnberger, there never was a clarinet made by Nico available. They were either taking part in an instrument building contest or already sold. So this was to be a postponed moment of truth for the both of us. Quite exiting and in a way very intimate – although I only realised this after I played.
So I played, and played, and played some more. As stated above it was mind blowing. The instrument had a unique and complete character. A definite and gentle ease. It adapted to me and even corrected and lead me. It’s hard to accurately describe how well it adjusted to my playing, without it being soft or too easy. Just right.
And whilst playing I realised that my clarinet was one single instrument of a long lineage of clarinets, and I was playing the next generation manifesting the cumulative evolution of all its predecessors.
I was definitely playing a Nürnberger, but just like the pre-turned grenadilla clarinet joints which have been apparently lying there since 1958 (photo above) – and fascinated me for years, all my previous observations were suddenly placed in this new frame of reference. The technological advancements in clarinet manufacture, for instance the addition of improvement keys, the sense and nonsense of bore diameter adjustments, the different ways in which the wood is dried, the secrecy in the individual art of clarinet making, but most and above all the different characters of the instruments I’ve played resonating those of their makers.
Now I’m not sure how important you find your instrument, or how much you’re into finding your instrument, but I can’t help but wish every single clarinet player out there could share my experience. Because apart from finding the best reeds, ligatures and care for your clarinet, there are complete and undiscovered constellations of new experiences to be had trying real hand made instruments. And the Vogtland still has some of the best craftsmen in Europe, or perhaps even worldwide. So if you wondering what to do on your next holiday?! If you need information on where to find a list of addresses of studios to visit, looking for a place to stay or even want me to come along and show you around, just drop me a line and I’ll be glad to be of assistance.