Julie Amacher | Classical MPR
Imagine you're teetering at the top of a roller coaster — that tickle, that anticipated thrill, or total terror as you're about to go over the top!
Clarinetist Anthony McGill, and his older brother, flutist Demarre McGill, take you on a thrilling musical ride on their new recording, Winged Creatures.
Anthony spends most of his time serving as the principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic. Occasionally, he does a little joy riding with his brother. For their second recording together, they went back to their old stomping grounds.
You grew up in Chicago, and you've returned to your roots a little bit by collaborating with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Why did you want to work with this orchestra?
"Well, my brother and I actually both played in the orchestra when we were teenagers. This orchestra is made up of high school students, but they are exceptional. It was kind of a no-brainer when someone suggested we record this with them because it's a very unique idea to do a professional recording with a youth orchestra. It's just great to be able to go back with the students that are the same age as my brother and I when we were there."
This is an orchestra that's not only investing in the future of music and the next generation of musical leaders, but its music director, Allen Tinkham, is also a tremendous advocate for new works, and there are a couple of world premieres on this recording.
"That is correct! Joel Puckett's Concerto Duo."
Let's talk about the movements in Joel Puckett's piece. Each one is actually named for a little toddler that he knows. And I love the first movement, it's so fun, and he does such a great job creating this image of this large wooden roller coaster known as The Scream Machine, the Great American Scream Machine. Would you talk about that movement, please?
"You know that moment before you — if you've ever been on a roller coaster — where you're at the very top of it, you don't know what's going to happen, but you just hope this thing doesn't break? Especially the wooden ones? And you have the sounds of that, and then you have the screams of your fellow companions on this roller coaster. And he does that in the piece really well."
The second movement, Mama Dee's Song for Joel, is a complete 180, and you're lulling a baby to sleep, and you each get an opportunity to do that, clarinet and flute, but it's not always as easy as you might think to lull that baby to sleep.
"If I remember correctly, Mama Dee was Joel's grandmother, and she used to sing this to him as a baby. The simple melody itself is stunning and impactful."
And the orchestra, at least half the orchestra, also gets the chance to sing a little bit, right?
"This is the most stunning part of the piece. Because it's such a texture that is such a surprise that you almost don't know it's there, and it's so subtle that it adds this gorgeous glow to what is already a really stunning kind of texture and carpet. So to hear, especially the youth orchestra voices, humming this, is especially effective, I think."
The work that opens this recording is the title track, and it is a world premiere, Winged Creatures. This is truly an inviting work. I just couldn't stop listening to it. It reminded me of following a butterfly in the way that it sort of just flits from flower to flower, and you don't really know what it's going to do.
"Yeah. Michael Abels is a real genius. And it's so colorful, and the way he uses the instruments with the texture of the sounds that we produce, the sounds that the orchestra produces, gives it the spectrum of expression and color like a prism."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.