Can You Play This Gorgeous Rachmaninoff Clarinet Solo? If So, You've Arrived!

Sep 23, 2018

A melody in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony was made famous to fans of Eric Carmen’s pop tune “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.” But in the symphony, that melody leads to one of the most beautiful, and difficult, clarinet solos in the literature. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has the story.

On Sunday, September 24 at 1 pm on WRTI and Monday, September 25 at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2, The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.

At the start of the symphony’s third movement, the violins sweep us up, with the familiar yearning melody.  The solo clarinet line is about to begin, which requires the principal clarinetist to quickly change clarinets (from b flat to a) and be ready to dive right in.

“You’re just hoping for the best—your first note is—boom, hello, there’s your solo,” says Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Clarinet Ricardo Morales. “There is always a prayer, dear God, I love you. I hope it doesn’t go wrong.”

The solo, now required auditions for major principal clarinet positions, is tricky on so many levels:  technically, the line of many sustained notes  is lyrical and slow, while, violins are playing a different rhythm, in triplets.  

“You practice it super rhythmically so then you don’t have to play it rhythmically,” explains Morales, “so You understand the shape of it and therefore, one can float above it.

Morales, who’s been Philadelphia’s principal since 2003, says the music is also demanding emotionally. “I get teary eyed while playing, I have to get cynical. Okay, breath support, embouchure, correct fingering, just to separate myself from the emotional overwhelming sound.”

But, he says, “there’s nothing more exciting, especially to be able to play Rachmaninoff with The Philadelphia Orchestra, an orchestra which has been a close musical partner of Rachmaninoff. It’s a great honor.”