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Music Breathes, and a Clarinet Concerto Comes to Life

A passage from the Hebrew Bible. The lines and dots stand for vowel sounds.

When the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned Jonathan Leshnoff to write a concerto for principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales, the composer realized a connection between the clarinet and...the Hebrew alphabet. WRTI's Debra Lew Harder explains.

Listen to the re-broadcast of Jonathan Leshnoff’s clarinet concerto, Nekudim, written for Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinet Ricardo Morales, whom the composer calls a “once-in-a-generation clarinetist.” Morales is joined by The Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin on June 25th at 1 pm, and June 26th at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2.

Listen to WRTI's Debra Lew Harder speak with composer, Jonathan Leshnoff and The Philadelphia Orchestra's principal clarinet, Ricardo Morales.

Composer Jonathan Leshnoff

Radio script:

Debra Lew Harder: For composer Jonathan Leshnoff, the clarinet has an almost mystical connection to the breath.

Jonathan Leshnoff: The clarinet is such a fantastic instrument because, unlike the guitar or even the violin, the clarinet is connected by the breath — and that has something to do with the inner essence of the player being expressed right in the instrument.

DLH: Breath, he says, is also essential to the expression of the Hebrew alphabet, whose written letters are just consonants.

JL: In order to give the letter any type of direction, it needs a vowel, which are notated by lines and dots, called "nikkudim" in Hebrew. The letter itself is like a dead body, it just exists on its own but doesn't do anything. It requires the breath to make that letter alive.

DLH: Leshnoff subtitled his new clarinet concerto Nekudim?, the points of the Hebrew alphabet that represent the vowels, and the breath — both spiritual and practical — that bring word, and music, to life.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.