In a quick time-travel back to 1994 clarinetist Don Ross realized there were numerous pieces of great chamber music written for the clarinet, but only with specific combinations of instruments.
He founded Saint Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble, a classically trained group of a dozen musicians eager to freelance their specific skills for upcoming concerts. Depending on the repertoire, selected instruments are chosen to blend into a single sound creating varied moods.
Ross has assembled A February Winter’s Night, a two-act clarinet-based concert for St. Albert Chamber Music Society on Saturday, Feb. 4 at St. Albert United Church.
On this occasion, the Saint Crispin Trio features Ross, pianist Ariane Lowrey, a long-time colleague, and violinist Viktoria Grynenko, a musician he assisted while she completed her doctorate.
“They both have huge chops as players. They’re very gracious and intuitive. They’re easy to work with and have a distinctive vision. Even though it’s my group, we’ve ended up with a performance I would not have thought of,” said Ross.
Although primarily a performer, Ross has taught at the University of Alberta, Kings University and Concordia College. As a freelance session player, his music is all over the map. In any given year he plays up to 150 shows annually evenly split between classical, jazz, world and experimental.
“For this concert I want to take people out of their day-to-day cares and take them to a more illuminating world for a couple of hours through a structured journey. We hope everyone will feel they’ve spent a couple of hours reimagining a place with wide scenery and a whole range of emotions,” Ross said.
The repertoire features eight works from various eras and infused with the essence of different cultures. One of Ross’ favourites is the stunning closing masterpiece, the 20-minute Trio for clarinet, violin and piano by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian.
“It’s a huge, rich, textured, exotic piece that takes you to Armenia. It’s a rugged, ancient land with an Asian influence. It has contours of the Orthodox church with huge sweeps of passion, history and depth of Armenian culture. It has great sounds and emotional depth, and it’s passionate, swirly and romantic.”
While the finale is deeply moving, the opening piece, Darius Milhaud’s Suite pour Violon, Clarinette et Piano is the opposite of Khachaturian’s work.
“It’s bright and sparkling. It’s very cheerful and uplifting on the surface. Often with Milhaud there is depth, and he can take you on a thrill ride. As you get into it, there will be French country themes and a little bit of 1920s jazz.”
Neda Yamach, former Edmonton Symphony Orchestra violinist, commissioned Ross to compose I’ll Wait after hearing his work with Gadjo Collective, a local Gypsy jazz band.
“As the piece goes on it takes on Balkan flavours, and as with many of my pieces, it gets lost and tries to find it’s way before reaching a final destination.”
Ross’ arrangement of Britt AM’s punk rock song, Enough, came about as a fluke. During the early months of COVID, the clarinetist was slated to perform at a mountain music festival in British Columbia.
“It was cancelled but they had money left over. So, they commissioned a recording from all of us. All of us played a piece from a different musician at the festival. I created an arrangement for clarinet and piano. It’s a bitter love song and she (Britt) has a sarcastic wit. My arrangement is a blend of rock’n roll and Gypsy music with an almost flamenco chord progression and an improvised solo section in the middle. “
In a special tribute to Ukraine, Viktoria Grynenko plays composer Myroslav Skoryk’s achingly sorrowful Melody, from the movie High Pass. The violinist takes the listener to the Second World War as a Carpathian family is torn apart by different political allegiances. Although composed for the 1981 movie, Ross believes Melody will resonate very loudly with current audiences.
The spotlight is also on Sadie Samuel, an emerging artist, who opens the concert. She has competed in multiple concerts and enjoys collaborating with musicians. Samuel also has the distinction of performing at the Young Composers competition in 2021.
The concert starts 7:30 p.m. at St. Albert United Church, Green Grove Drive. Tickets can be purchased in person at Musée Heritage Museum or online at Eventbrite or at the door if available. Tickets are $35 adults, $30 seniors and $15 students.