Grace, Drive, and Mystery, from de Guise-Langlois and BCMS
Sunday, April 9, 2023
On WCRB In Concert with the Boston Chamber Music Society, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois is the soloist in Hummel's venerable Clarinet Quartet and Pierre Jalbert's recent meditation on the sacred and the secular, "Street Antiphons," in a program that also includes Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 2.
Boston Chamber Music Society
Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet
Isabelle Ai Durrenberger and Alyssa Wang, violins
Marcus Thompson, viola
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Max Levinson, piano
HUMMEL Clarinet Quartet in E-flat
Pierre JALBERT Street Antiphons
BRAHMS Piano Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 26
Recorded at Jordan Hall in Boston, Mass., on January 15, 2023
This concert is no longer available on demand.
Hear a conversation with Alan McLellan and clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois using the audio player above, and read the transcript below:
Alan McLellan Romie de Guise-Langlois is the featured musician in this week's WCRB In Concert with music by Hummel, Jalbert, and Brahms, and Romie is playing on both the Hummel and the Jalbert and she's with me now. Romie de Guise-Langlois, thank you so much for joining me.
Romie de Guise-Langlois You're welcome. It's nice to see you, meet you. Yeah.
Alan McLellan You're one of the newest member musicians of the Boston Chamber Music Society. What's it like to play with that organization?
Romie de Guise-Langlois For me, I think the main feeling is gratitude. I'm really just happy to be part of the organization, of the family. I'm from Montreal originally, and then I lived in New York for almost 15 years and I moved to Amherst, Massachusetts three years ago. And to join the Boston Chamber Music Society was just such a nice present because where I'm not so far and yeah, it's just wonderful to have a home not so far from home to go play and perform with musicians that I enjoy, the music that we enjoy.
Alan McLellan And you're on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Romie de Guise-Langlois That's right.
Alan McLellan And teaching a lot of students. And do you get to play chamber music there as well?
Romie de Guise-Langlois Yeah, we do our fair share of chamber concerts with other faculty there and it's . . . yeah, we have a nice team. Yeah. I feel grateful for my colleagues, for sure. Yes.
Alan McLellan And you were involved in the premiere of the Jalbert piece back in 2015. Do you remember what that was like?
Romie de Guise-Langlois Yes. It was . . . I mean, so being part of a premiere is always a special moment because you don't have a recording to listen to. You're really creating the music from the score with the composer. So I always feel lucky to be part of that and be able to, you know, be close to the creative process. So it was like that. It was like we were getting to know his music. This piece is not the easiest piece. There are definitely challenging moments, so [laughing] it was quite a workout, I remember. But I think that makes the premiere the most exciting performance, you know, and then to be able to do it again this year was wonderful to revisit it, and try to dig a little deeper into it and into the interpretation of it. Yes.
Alan McLellan In this concert, you're playing an early 19th century piece by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. It's a gorgeous piece. And I understand from talking to you earlier that you hadn't heard this before or you hadn't played this before, in any case.
Romie de Guise-Langlois That's right. It was so new and it was Marcus Thompson [Boston Chamber Music Society artistic director] who found it and who decided, okay, do you want to do this? And I was like, okay, let's do it. And as I got ready for it, I listened to recordings and I had mixed feelings, I must say. Honestly, I thought, hmm, is this going to . . . is this going to hold together in an artistic way? And then we sat down and we read it, and it was just such a different experience to play it with people, and to hear it, and to start exploring the music in a more creative way and to try and find different ways to phrase a phrase that comes back many times. And it was such a joy. It was really wonderful.
I think as a clarinetist, we don't have so much repertoire so for chamber music. So we get to repeat some of it, like Mozart and Brahms, which are amazing. I would never, you know, pass that. But being able to play a piece that I've never played that is in the classical style, it was very exciting. Yeah. So it was very fresh and we were able to be spontaneous with it and just to feel like, you know, maybe how people played the Mozart the first time, like how that felt, right? And to be in this very fresh approach of improvisation and a little more. Yeah.
Alan McLellan That's interesting. You're almost . . . it's almost like you're in dialogue with the composer when you're just playing, encountering this piece for the first time, even though the composer is 250 years [laughing] old by now.
Romie de Guise-Langlois That's right. It's like we know the language right, and so we get to know him with the knowledge we already have. But he's different and he's got his things. Yeah.
Alan McLellan There's some unusual elements in this Hummel Clarinet Quartet. The second movement particularly has some interesting twists and turns, mainly because it's written so strangely. It's like he's playing a joke on the musicians. Can you talk about that?
Romie de Guise-Langlois Yeah. So the second movement, I had to pick up my score because when we played it, if you read it, you're okay. You don't realize [laughing] how complex it is. But if you really look at the score, there is some really complex meter going on of 12/8 at the same time as at 3/4 and 6/8 [time signatures in different meters]. And bars don't align together, and it's a little bit . . . I was looking at it and I just couldn't comprehend very well what's going on just by looking at it. When we play, it's okay. As long as we don't stop [both laughing], we're fine. So I wonder if that was an exercise for him to see how he could line up like really different grooves together and when they could reach each other and when they could just be apart. It doesn't sound like it. So that's the interesting thing.
Alan McLellan He calls it "La Seccatura," which I understand is translated "the bother," or "the annoyance." Yeah, he was playing a joke on the musicians, I guess.
Romie de Guise-Langlois Maybe. Yeah, I know. The cello line is also very . . . it's like a workout. It doesn't stop for the whole time. So I don't know what he was exactly aiming at, but there's definitely some unusual practices there.
Alan McLellan And what a sweet sound you make. But the piece itself is just lovely and it's great to hear. And then you're playing Jalbert, the Street Antiphons. Can you talk a little bit about that piece? It's a recently composed piece. Jalbert is from New Hampshire and grew up in Vermont, and in more recent years, I guess has been teaching at Rice University. As the clarinetist that premiered the work. I think you probably have some special insight into it. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges of the Jalbert?
Romie de Guise-Langlois Sure. Yeah. So Pierre Jalbert's music is . . . I, you know, I've played more of his music before. We've done a tour to Cuba. I know him for longer. And it's so great to get to know a composer through more than one piece. And he's very humble and very clear with his thoughts and how he sees his music. I really respect how he writes the arch of a movement and how he structures the energy, and the buildup, and all the phrases. And it seems too his sense of timing is just so great, so effective. And I would say how, you know, he's got those little sections that are rhythmically very challenging because it's like a groove that has a little hiccup in it [Alan laughing]. So if you look at the first movement, the title of the first movement is just "Driving, cool, in a groove." So you need to have enough drive so that it has this edge, and then you have to be cool also. So I would say that's the challenge to be able to like make a little bit of a more edgy, rhythmically music sound cool.
Alan McLellan So how do you think of "cool" in this context? I mean, you know, how does a musician play in a “cool” way?
Romie de Guise-Langlois Oh, I think it's the level of anxiety [both laughing], maybe. Like if you put yourself in this mindset that this music is actually relaxed and people can dance on it, then you'll play it differently, right? Yeah. So I think . . . yeah, and also the familiarity of it, the more you play it, the more you can do it. So that's why I was saying like, "Oh, it was really nice to play it for the second time and sort of have a little bit more of a grounded feeling to it." Yeah, so the rhythms are often like . . . it'll be like . . . it'll groove in a normal way, and then they'll have something like a shorter beat, like the beginning [imitates a regular groove in the music that is abruptly shortened and repeated]. And then you have to sort of like, be very light in order to land back onto the downbeat. And so yeah, I think it's a special way of dancing.
Alan McLellan Yeah. Yeah. Kind of . . . yeah, to make sure you hit the right moment. Kind of on a backbeat kind of swing. So he talks about the contrasts between the sacred and the secular in this music. Can you talk a little bit about how that happens? You know, there's some things that sound to me like the bustle of modern life, a city street kind of thing in that first movement you're talking about. But then there's some very serene moments as well.
Romie de Guise-Langlois Yes. I think that brings out both qualities. And it brings out the beauty of the serene. So after the busyness of the rhythmical section then comes something much more linear. We can hear that in both the second movement, and also the third movement. In the second movement, you have this sort of . . . background chords that are rhythmically also [imitates rapid meter changes in music]. So it's like a cycle that is broken a little bit, but it expands as you go. And then over that, played by the strings and the piano, you hear the clarinet, just having this really long melody that locks into the rhythm of the chords. But if you don't count, you're probably . . . you're not fully aware that the counting isn't quite always [imitates a consistent duple meter], right? It just, it's also broken there. So I think it's great that he makes this effect of a little bit like . . . still a sort of a dance going on.
But then you have the stillness and the lyricism of the clarinet and that line that also sort of brings a timelessness to it. You'll see. You'll hear what I mean. I think he's very good at just juxtaposing opposites together, but also next to each other. When you were talking about them, the street music and the more spiritual music. So I think, yeah, it brings out all those qualities. And then when you get to the third movement, you'll hear this beautiful melody that's . . . he was inspired by a Gregorian chant, and it's very slow and simple and also brings you into this sort of like . . . you forget about time. You become really like in the present moment. And I think playing that gives the effect of being in the present as well. Improvising with which note to emphasize and, and sort of like deciding that on the moment is really the joy in what we do. So he gave us like this beautiful time to explore and feel free before the end of the last movement, which is quite a race.
Alan McLellan Yeah, that's lovely that you think of it as, as being in the moment, because I think that's . . . that maybe is the spiritual aspect of it. I was going to ask you, you know, do you get a sense of this, the spiritual in this piece?
Romie de Guise-Langlois Yes, definitely. I think personally, for me, music is often spiritual. Maybe it is my spirituality, not practicing religion in my personal life. I find it brings us to another place where we can connect with people through sound and it's so pure. So I'm very open with like, you know, the style and what kind of music this can open the door to. So for me, yes, this, this music works really well in this way. And as I said before, the contrast of rhythm and like normal life with this timelessness and lyricism makes it even more effective.
Alan McLellan Romie, can you talk about your own future plans? Any recording projects that you wanted to talk about?
Romie de Guise-Langlois It's nice that you ask me actually, because I've been very busy thinking about my next project, which is to welcome our daughter into this . . . our world here, and she's due on May 21st.
Alan McLellan Congratulations. That is so wonderful.
Romie de Guise-Langlois Thank you. Yeah. So this is taking a lot of my energy right now. But yes, I love thinking about what I want to do after that. And you remember, I don't know if you remember, but I played the Lowell Liebermann Clarinet Sonata. Two years ago, I think we premiered it at the Boston Chamber Music Society, and I would love to record that. That would be a great recording project. I've been also arranging like solo works for a clarinet, and I've been borrowing the Max Reger viola suites, and they're so beautiful, and I would love to continue this project and yeah, write it, perform it, record it. That would be really exciting for me.
Alan McLellan That's wonderful. And hopefully many more concerts with the Boston Chamber Music Society.
Romie de Guise-Langlois That's right. Yes.
Alan McLellan Romie de Guise-Langlois, it's such a pleasure to be talking with you and to have this conversation, and really a pleasure to hear this music by Hummel and Jalbert and Brahms. Thank you so much.
Romie de Guise-Langlois Yes, me too. Thank you. Wonderful to meet you and get to know you as well, Alan. Yeah.