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Arts Desk

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.