“At the heart of every great musical composition is a story.”
So begins clarinetist Joshua Mietz in his program notes for his upcoming solo recital.
Mietz is the featured performer in the next Unitarian Universalist Recital Series. Mietz and pianist Marilyn Garst, the mastermind behind the series, will perform at 7 p.m. Friday at 419 San Juan Drive, one of the city’s loveliest spaces and a fine acoustical setting ($15, $7 for students and kids).
Now in its seventh season, the UU Series has earned a reputation for presenting professional musicians in unusual, thought-provoking programs. Garst has maintained a high standard throughout and encourages invitees to explore what they have always wanted to perform.
If folk tales are the bedrock of literature, then folk music is the stream flowing under so much classical music of the last 200 years.
“The English, in particular,” Mietz says, “love to tell a good yarn.”
And apparently, so does he. Mietz will perform works inspired by folk music from composers such as Gerald Finzi, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold. The folk inspiration will be obvious, Mietz said in an interview last week, in Finzi’s “Five Bagatelles” and Vaughan Williams’ “Six Studies in English Folksong.”
“The folk songs contained in the Arnold,” he said, “are veiled, often behind technical passages.”
If you’ve heard Mietz play in a faculty recital at Fort Lewis College, you know his technical mastery of the clarinet is impressive. A month ago, he performed the Brahms Clarinet Sonata No. 1, with collaborative pianist Robert Spillman, in an Artist-in-Residence program. Treacherous and beautiful, the work is considered a masterpiece in the clarinet repertoire. Mietz and Spillman made it effortlessly gorgeous.
Mietz also will play two contemporary works, including “Folk Songs,” by Eric Mandat, 56, whom Mietz met at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Mietz earned the first of three degrees in clarinet performance there, culminating win a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 2011.
“The Mandat has five movements that sound super avant garde,” Mietz said. “It has become somewhat notorious since he composed it back in 1986.”
Although called “Folk Songs,” Mietz said there are only oblique references to folk tunes. Instead, there is a boatload of what are called extended techniques. For example, Mietz will take off the clarinet mouthpiece and play into the body as if it were a Japanese flute. He demonstrated, and the sound had the ghost-like quality of many Native American flutes.
“The last movement requires circular breathing,” Mietz added. “It’s an ancient technique that requires continuous reloading of the lungs to keep the sound going. The Australian didgeridoo and the Scottish bagpipes work the same way.”
In each movement, Mietz said, you can hear folk impressions or textures from rustic Appalachian music, Turkish or Indian ragas, even Spanish music.
The outlier on the program will be Willson Osborne’s “Rhapsody” performed unaccompanied. “Osborne takes a melody and travels with it through the range of the instrument,” Mietz said. “It’s a dark and often exotic journey – before returning home.”
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.