By Scott MacClelland
IN THE MASTERS FESTIVAL SERIES at Hidden Valley, Emil Khudyev made abundantly clear why he is associate principal clarinetist of the Seattle Symphony and why, one day, he will hold first chair alone in a major American orchestra. Put simply, he makes what other clarinetists struggle to achieve look and sound easy. He also has perfected a tone—a timbre—that covers the wide range of his instrument with consistency and purity, none of it masked by vibrato, the technique many players (and singers) use when they are insecure about being in tune.
For Khudyev’s recital at Hidden Valley, a week ago Monday, he was joined by his Japan-born wife Nozomi Khudyev at the piano for a one-hour excursion of exceptional variety that included numerous local premieres. The Fantasistykke of 1880 was written by the 15-year-old Carl Nielsen, very much influenced by the clarinet works of Carl Maria von Weber; in four short minutes it lingered in a thoughtful mood until just before a coloratura flash of punctuation. An adagio by Bach and a gigue by French opera composer Daniel Auber, both arranged by Ivan Mozgovenko, Khudyev’s teacher in Moscow, led up to the US premiere of “In Memory of Nesimi” (2018) by Turkmen composer Redzhep Allayarov that honors a 14th century Persian poet, who was skinned alive for his ‘crimes,’ but stood in as a proxy for atrocities committed in the late 20th century. The brooding tone and, especially, modal scales captured the character often heard often in the works of the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness.
“Viktor’s Tale” from John Williams’ score for the Steven Spielberg comedy The Terminal lent a klezmer inflection to Khudyev’s recital. Alexander Rosenblatt’s jazzy take on themes from Bizet’s Carmen showed just how stylish echoes can still be unearthed from that masterpiece, even without toreadors.
Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Etude No. 3 for clarinet alone spotlighted not so much Khudyev’s mastery as his charismatic personality, a distinction that runs through the entire Khudyev clan, so well known to music lovers of the Monterey Peninsula. To reward the cheering audience, Emil and Nozomi offered an ‘album page,’ reduced from a piece for clarinet and strings by the multi-award-winning Michele Mangani, a prolific composer who writes in the style of Ennio Morricone—think Cinema Paradiso.