Music: Warm sounds

Although Shirley Brill chose clarinet almost by chance, she now feels that this is the instrument through which she can express herself.

Shirley Brill (photo credit: PR)
Shirley Brill
(photo credit: PR)
Shirley Brill, the internationally acclaimed Israeli clarinet player who will appear with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble this month, confides that the choice of instrument that has taken her to the most prestigious venues around was quite incidental.
“I studied piano but wanted to play music with other people. One day, Arye Reuven, the manager of our Petah Tikva Conservatory, told me that a new teacher had joined the faculty. This was Yitzhak Katzap – and the rest is history,” says the 32-yearold Brill in a phone interview from Germany, where she currently resides and works with her pianist husband, Jonathan Aner, and their child.
She was really lucky – Yitzhak Katzap, who immigrated from Romania with a solid teaching career behind him, has established himself in Israel as a prominent pedagogue who nurtured several generations of local clarinet players. Some of them enjoy globe-trotting solo careers while others work in prestigious orchestras and play chamber music.
“I am still grateful to Reuven for bringing such excellent a teacher,” she goes on. “First of all, he is a wonderful person and we, all his students, were like a family.
He made it a point to keep a friendly atmosphere and to avoid unnecessary competition between us. He never counted his working hours and could study with us as long as needed. The important thing for him was to teach us doing everything correctly from the very beginning. So when I decided to move abroad and started to study with [prominent German clarinet player] Sabine Mayer, she immediately said: “You have a solid basis, from here we can advance, no need to fix mistakes – there are none.”
Speaking about Mayer, Brill says that the former taught her “the elegance of sound and musicianship among other things.
She also taught us how to learn – now that I myself am teaching, I see that not all students really know how to learn, how to teach themselves.”
Brill currently plays solo with orchestras and with chamber ensembles as part of regular concert activities and also appears at festivals. She is teaching chamber music at Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule in Berlin and conducts master classes in Europe and beyond.
Although Brill chose clarinet almost by chance – “I first considered oboe” – she now feels that this is really a music instrument through which she can express herself. “I like the characteristic sound of clarinet. It is equally good for both classics and jazz and is powerful enough to reach the last row in the concert hall. Many prominent composers wrote for it, such as Mozart and Brahms.
“Interesting enough, that the latter wrote for clarinet toward the end of his days when he already decided to quit composing. Yet being captivated by its sound, he put his retirement programs aside and composed two sonatas, a trio and a quintet! Also Mozart composed his clarinet concerto just before his death,” she adds.
Clarinet repertoire is not as large as that for violin or piano, but not that small. “I reveal lessknown, but still amazingly beautiful pieces for clarinet all the time. And I also arrange pieces originally written for other instruments. A few months ago I released a recording of [Leos] Janacek’s sonata for violin and piano in my arrangement for clarinet, which earned positive critics.”
Brill plays a clarinet produced especially for her by the Schwenk und Seggelke workshop in Bamberg. “It was built according to my personality as a musician,” she says. “Before creating the instrument, they spoke with me a lot – we’ve actually become friends – about music I like to play and about my style. And with this instrument – as well as clarinets of other types, produced by Schwenk und Seggelke – I feel totally at home, I enjoy its warm sound.”
Brill plays mostly classics, with eventual sorties to klezmer and jazz.
With the Tel Aviv Soloists she will perform Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, composed by Aaron Copland for Benny Goodman.
The program also features pieces by Yehezkel Braun, George Gershwin and Antonin Dvorak.
The concerts will take place on May 2 at Krieger Auditorium in Haifa ((04) 836-3804), on May 5 at the Israeli Conservatory in Tel Aviv (054-693-4439) and at Weil Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu (09) 956-9430).