Rising champion of the contemporary clarinet, Lara Mitofsky Neuss presented an innovative and engaging evening of new music in San Francisco on 16 May. This recital was performed live to an enthusiastic audience in the Osher Salon at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and was also livestreamed online.
Lara, who graduated from the conservatory in May with a Bachelor of Music, will attend Colorado State University this fall, studying for her Master of Music in performance. Her decision to select CSU was a result of her participation in Dr. Wesley Ferreira’s inaugural LIFT Clarinet Academy in the summer of 2014.
The concert program included solely pieces written in the last ten years, a daring choice which was carried out with great success.
This boldness was showcased from the outset, with Nico Muhly’s It Goes Without Saying for clarinet and electronics. Lara immediately demonstrated impressive technical control and the strong rhythmic integrity inherently necessary for a performance with electronics, especially in a piece with such tight dialogue between the track and the soloist.
Lara was then joined by pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi to perform As Desperation Sets In. This was a committed performance from both players, conveying the ‘desperation’ of the title and a sense of haunting or lamenting something of the past. Particularly notable was Lara’s clear enjoyment of the piece itself, inviting the audience to similarly be in the moment and experience the clever interplay of pianist and soloist, and the intricacy of shifting rhythmic patterns. Lush melodies soared over the piano’s harmonic accompaniment and a more agitated, faster section added intensity and drive to the work. The first instance of extended technique in the recital, microtones in the melodic line, was also expertly handled.
The next piece (Alasdair Maclean, Without Further Ado II) featured driving rhythmic energy from the piano behind trumpet-like fanfare statements and punctuating rhythms from conversing clarinets. This was likely only the second time this arrangement for two clarinets has been presented publically and the performance was energetic and well-matched between the soloists.
The second half of the program gave the audience the chance to hear Lara’s prowess on the bass clarinet, equal if not surpassing in technical mastery and fluidity of sound. Her bass playing was first showcased in Michael Lowenstern’s Trip for bass clarinet and electronics. This was a highly enjoyable piece, more lighthearted in spirit but certainly not lacking in depth. Lara spun off jazzy passages effortlessly and with great pizazz, interacting seamlessly with the electronics.
The world premiere of Homer Collyer Blind (Kyle Hovatter) followed, featuring Lara on bass clarinet alongside bassoonist Justin Cummings. Beginning with an ostinato like pattern in the bassoon, the piece evoked a minimalist quality with contrapuntal figures between bassoon and clarinet. The players interacted brilliantly with deep concern for every element of the piece to come across as the composer intended. The writing demanded a wide contrast of dynamics and colors from both instruments, ranging from somber lyricism at the start to mysterious agitation in the third section.
The next piece by the same composer (Entrance) stayed true to his established musical landscape of canon-type dialogue between instruments, sharp interjections, and ostinato patterns, this time with the addition of oboist Kai-Fung Lee. The trio navigated the audience through rhythmic intrigue and surprising turns of tempo with sincerity and ease.
An arrangement of When She Walks (Hauschka) for clarinet and background track concluded the program wonderfully. The effect of a soloist over recorded background clarinets was effective and interesting, offering a unique texture than if it had been performed in the original clarinet ensemble setting. As in each piece of the recital, Lara performed with great conviction, giving a rich and centered sound in whatever context required.
Lara invited the audience into a new soundscape with clarity and humor throughout, making the music approachable for even those unfamiliar to the clarinet. She is an infectiously spirited performer who brought an unhindered passion for the music in every moment. Composers of this century certainly have a friend in Ms. Neuss.