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Clarinets to the forefront

The clarinet is getting some well deserved glory at the West Coast Bass Clarinet Takeover featuring the bass clarinet quartet Edmund Welles. The band will join Southern Oregon University's Cascade Clarinet Consort for a richly diverse and eclectic concert.

“Edmund Welles is different from anything we've heard before,” says Rhett Bender, professor of music at SOU and director of SOU's Cascade Clarinet Consort. “They are a classically trained group with progressive rock influences. This concert is going to be unlike any clarinet performance we've had here in Ashland.”

The West Coast Bass Clarinet Takeover also will offer student performances, including a soprano clarinet trio and a bass clarinet quartet. Edmund Welles will play its original compositions for a little more than half of the program, then the groups will all play together. The show is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, in the Music Recital Hall on the SOU campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Tickets cost $10, $5 for seniors and students, and can be purchased at the box office in the music hall, online at www.sou.edu/performingarts or by calling 541-552-6348.

In addition to their SOU performance, the members of Edmund Welles will offer a master class on bass clarinet techniques. The free, 90-minute class will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the music hall. It will be open to spectators.

There are differently pitched types of clarinets in the instruments' family, the soprano clarinet is the most popular, but others such as the alto and bass clarinet are gaining popularity. The Cascade Clarinet Consort features the entire family of clarinets, and students and faculty work together to compose, arrange and perform music that showcases the different types of clarinet.

“This is an opportunity to share the versatility and beauty of the clarinet,” Bender says.

Edmund Welles, named for a comedy sketch in the British television show “Monty Python's Flying Circus,” is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and was founded by progressive rock and heavy chamber music composer Cornelius Boots. Bender says Boots and his band have helped change the way we think of the clarinet.

“There is a whole family of clarinets, and the bass clarinet was rarely, if ever, the featured instrument. With groups like Edmund Welles, the bass clarinet is becoming a primary instrument rather than a secondary instrument,” Bender says. “The band has a heavy-metal influence, a rhythmic way of composing and playing that comes from progressive rock. I've never heard anything like them. These guys are unique.”

 Bender says the group's participation in the show was largely student driven.

“The students brought them to our attention and did the fundraising to get them here,” Bender says. Although the band draws on rock, metal and jazz, its precision and artistry are based in classical music. Bender says their sound is especially appealing to students, and their virtuosity makes them appealing to everyone.

“People are not going to want to miss this concert,” Bender says. “Edmund Welles is creating a genre of progressive bass clarinet music."

Composer Cornelius Boots brandishes a bass clarinet in 2005 at a concert in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Ralph Granich