Chicago reclaims its clarinet from the New York Philharmonic

Our friend Andrew Patner has heard that star clarinet  Stephen Williamson is returning to the CSO after a year’s sabbatical with the NY Phil. What’s New York got that Chicago hasn’t? Not enough to keep a clarinet, apparently. Read Adrew’s report here.

stephen williamson

photo (c) Todd Rosenberg

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  • The CSO is in great form of late. I heard the CSO on tour in Essen, Germany with Muti in January and it was splendid. Interestingly, they had an acting Principal Clarinet on the tour, who was phenomenal and so extremely naturally musical and with a velvety smooth sound. He stood out, at least for me, in the many solo passages, as probably the finest principal musician that I heard in the entire orchestra. So, for the Chicago Symphony to have taken back Mr. Williamson, who I may have heard playing in the orchestra once, but don’t remember, he must be quite good, as it would be hard for me to imagine better clarinet playing than I recently heard on the Chicago Symphony tour in Germany with the acting principal that I mentioned above. I’d be curious to know who this guy was, as you don’t often hear such musical clarinet playing of that calibre in many orchestras nowadays. I’m sure he is or will be principal in one of the other top orchestras somewhere.

    • I happen to know the amazing clarinetist who was the acting Principal Clarinet on the CSO tour with Muti this January – ALEXANDER BEDENKO. We just had him perform Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Borodin quartet for Aspect Foundation for Music and Arts in London. It was quite remarkable!!! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said above about Bedenko’s playing – he is truly phenomenal.

    • I have been to this concert and agree that he is a very special and very talented musician. The name you are searching for is Alexander Bedenko. He is a friend of the family.

    • I happen to know the amazing clarinetist who was the acting Principal Clarinet on the CSO tour with Muti this January – ALEXANDER BEDENKO. We just had him perform Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Borodin quartet for Aspect Foundation for Music and Arts in London. It was quite remarkable!!! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said above about Bedenko’s playing – he is truly phenomenal.

  • I predicted this (probably on the Slipped Disc) blog last year when his “move” to New York was announced. It was a completely logical thing for him to show his marketability by going there for a year – then back to the CSO. So the search for the Philharmonic continues.

  • I heard, from a Curtis friend that the acting principal clarinet, who played on the Chicago Symphony tour to Europe in January was Alexander Bedenko, a Curtis graduate and a musician who I have had the pleasure of hearing many times in Verbier. He is, as the comment above stated, a true great, one of the finest clarinettists I have ever heard and a splendid musician. The NY Phil would be smart to consider him, if he is available.

  • I met Alexander Bedenko briefly in a chance airport encounter and I have to say that he may be a great player but he seems like a real jerk. Arrogant, full of himself and surprisingly pompous for such a young guy. He was on his way from NY to Chicago to play with CSO and was so impressed with himself that he was condescending to me and rude to others around him.

    Look, there are tons of great US born and trained clarinet players. Bedenko should at least be appreciative that he has work in the US while many native players do not. It’s not his God-given right to be working as a clarinetist in the US which is the impression he gave me. I don’t think he’d be a good fit permanently in CSO at all. Who could work with someone like that? I’ve since heard stories from other players that he’s rather “special” personality-wise.

    The moral of this story is you should ALWAYS be nice to strangers in airports. Especially if you’re wearing a clarinet on your back with Curtis ID tags. You never know who you might be talking to.

    • To be frank, i find it most preposterous that you have build up your mind about a person based on a brief encounter at the airport, where people are mostly tired and annoyed. First impressions is not always the ultimate truth and worth sharing with the world (unless you are Dr. Cal Lightman of course).

      As to the idea of “US born” and “should be appreciative”… Read it once more and try to see how exactly that sounds…

  • I totally agree with the above comment. Whenever I read something that speaks of nationality or ethnicity, i.e. “US born” and read, as was written above, in the comment by ‘Observer’, things like “It’s not his God-given right to be working as a clarinetist in the US…”, I quickly realise that the person is writing such things out of jealousy or envy, or possibly out of pure blatant nationalism and racism. In this case, it is simply too obvious. If the music profession has come to this, where we judge a man, not by how he plays, but on where he comes from and a supposed one-off encounter in an airport, neither having any relation whatsoever to artistry or musicianship, then the music world is headed for its demise.

    Just think if people would have thought that way 50 or 75 years ago. The United States would not have had the privilege of such greats as Jascha Heifetz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gregor Piatigorsky, Arthur Rubenstein, Fritz Reiner, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Marcel Tabuteau and the hundreds, if not thousands of other greats. All arrived on America’s shores and all were welcomed and contributed to enriching the nation’s musical landscape and themselves training a generation of ‘American born’ talents. To now take a racist and nationalistic attitude to deride another great musician, putting emphasis on his origins and saying that “he should at least be appreciative that he has work in the US…” is pathetic and very unfortunate. I should add that neither Jascha Heifetz, nor Fritz Reiner, nor George Szell, nor Eugene Ormandy were known to be “nice guys” and many probably called them “jerks” behind their backs. That didn’t and shouldn’t have stopped them from being appreciated for what kind of great musicians they were.

    By the way, I too have heard this brilliant Mr. Bedenko perform twice in concerts in Verbier (playing Prokofiev) and was equally impressed by his profound and highly musical playing. I left that concert saying to myself, that I just heard one of the greatest and most musical wind players that I ever heard. My seat mate at the same concert agreed with me.

    • I know Alex Bedenko well. My father, Sidney Forrest, taught him for many years at Interlochen (since Alex was 11, I think, and still living in Ukraine!), as well as in his private studio in Washington, DC. They were very much in touch until my dad’s death in 2013. He always spoke of Alex as among his most talented and amazingly musical students ever, and his career is certainly bearing that out! I wish him the very best.

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