Student clarinetist earns the spotlight for concerto performance


 

A classically trained musician, Matthew Griffith ’14 admits that he was initially intimidated at the thought of performing Artie Shaw's jazzy "Concerto for Clarinet in B Flat." Yet he was named a winner of the William Waite Concerto Competition for his lively rendition of the piece.

Sponsored by the Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO), the William Waite Concerto Competition requires applicants to submit a 10-minute performance from a concerto on their chosen instrument. The winner performs with the orchestra — which Griffith did in October, earning enthusiastic applause for his presentation of the jazz classic.

A life-long musician, Griffith has won numerous competitions and performed with world-class ensembles, including the United States Army Field Band and the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band. Now a junior at Yale, he is majoring in both computer science and music and is a member of Trumbull College.

Griffith recently sat down with YaleNews to talk about his music-making. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Where are from? Were you heavily involved with music in your community?

I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and I come from a very musical family. My mother plays the flute and has a doctorate in piano performance from the University of Colorado-Boulder; my dad sings and plays the guitar, and my older brother also sings and plays the French horn.

Back home, I was involved in music throughout my community, such as playing in my school's bands and pit orchestras, with the Sheboygan Area Youth Symphony, performing solo works in church, and soloing with the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra. I also performed in a number of ensembles in Milwaukee, and my parents drove me back and forth between performances and competitions, sometimes as often as four days out of the week. My family has been incredibly supportive, and I can’t thank them enough.

How often do you rehearse?

The clarinet is my primary instrument, so I rehearse as often as I can, anywhere from one to eight hours a day, depending on my workload and whether I have a performance or competition coming up. In addition to my individual practice, I rehearse with the ensembles, and those groups usually meet at least once a week for a few hours.

How did you discover Artie Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet in B Flat?” What does the piece mean to you, and how did you earn the opportunity to perform it as a soloist with the YSO?

A former teacher, Jill Hanes, introduced the music to me near the end of high school. I was initially intimidated by the complexity of the piece, because I’m a classically trained clarinetist, and Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet in B Flat” has a very jazzy style that I was unfamiliar with. The piece, therefore, was my bridge to a different genre of music and an opportunity for me to expand my range as a musician.

In my sophomore year at Yale, I competed in the William Waite Concerto Competition with the piece and co-won it with flutist Victor Wang ’14. The prize was to perform the concerto with the YSO during its next season.

What is the musical community like at Yale?

Yale has an incredibly vibrant musical community. There is a stunning variety of talent here, a supportive network of professors and performance groups, and multiple shows every week, with many different ways to be involved.

For example, I’m lucky to be able to take American classical clarinetist David Shifrin’s clarinet studio, and I’ve also performed with the Yale Concert Band, the Berkeley College Orchestra, the YSO, and two small chamber groups — a piano trio and woodwind quintet. During the 2011-2012 winter break, I performed “Concerto for Clarinet in B Flat” as part of a group called The Indigo Trio. The group includes two Yale friends — Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins [on cello] and Richard Kahn [on piano]. We toured southeast Alaska for two weeks, during which time I had an opportunity to refine the piece.

Why did you decide to double-major in music and computer science?

Growing up, I loved both computers and the clarinet too much to give either up, so I decided in middle school that I when I got to college, I would major in something that related to both.

What do you when you aren’t rehearsing?

When I’m not practicing the clarinet, I’m probably hanging out with my suitemates in Trumbull College.

Otherwise I’m probably working on my game engine, which is software that helps people make games. It’s still a work-in-progress, but the early results have been promising. I used it to make a game that I submitted to the Future Leaders of America competition, in the Computer Game and Simulation category.

Did it win?

Yes.

Do you intend to stick with music after Yale?

Definitely! Going to grad school for music isn’t out of the question, and I would also like to play with a professional orchestra.