April 30: Hanick Hawley Duo Makes Album Debut

20 March 2021

We began simply enough: a tracklist scrawled on the back of a receipt at a restaurant in New York City for our first album. But the journey from receipt to reality was anything but simple. Our instincts had to be honed and assumptions reevaluated. We had to sift through dozens of ideas and winnow them down to their most essential elements. We even found ourselves reconsidering the very state of classical recordings in the 21st century. Despite these questions, this much was clear: our album would highlight the extraordinary music for clarinet and piano by modern American composers, reinvigorate the repertoire for clarinet and piano by commissioning new work, and sound as good as the music comprising it.

A Gentle Notion is the result. It represents the past, present, and future of American music for clarinet and piano and strives to revitalize the sound of classical music recordings.

The album is anchored by Sonatas of Aaron Copland, Jennifer Higdon, and Pierre Jalbert, and capped by music of Joan Tower and the world premiere recording of Higdon's "A Gentle Notion". The Copland is the “golden oldie” of the set and its influence is felt throughout. The Sonata's harmonic language, rhythmic interplay, and orchestration is the point of departure for the other music on the album and itself stands as a totem of the American style. Jennifer Higdon’s Clarinet Sonata, adapted from the Viola Sonata written in 1989, is a contemporary classic of the genre and showcases Higdon's gifts for melody, texture, and structure. There's no doubt this work will sit alongside the Copland Sonata as a fixture in the repertoire. Finally, there's the most recently composed piece on the album, Pierre Jalbert's Clarinet Sonata, written for us in 2015. The work is extraordinarily crafted, and the writing, like all of Pierre’s music, is perfectly tailored to showcase the strengths of each instrument.

The music on A Gentle Notion is fundamentally collaborative. There's a sense that each work is greater than the sum of its parts, with a high degree of coordination required to render the interactive syntax of the language. In fact, so entwined is the clarinet and piano material that we stopped thinking about distinct instrumental lines and instead thought of a composite "three-handed" instrument. In this way, the clarinet voice becomes woven into the fabric like a silver strand, adding to the tapestry while providing a distinct timbre all its own. It was in the spirit of this many-handed instrumentalist that we chose the other two works on the album. The title track, Higdon's "A Gentle Notion" is a short work of such intimate coordination that the instruments practically finish each other's sentences. Joan Tower's "Wings", on the other hand, is a clarinet solo of such ferocious virtuosity and contrapuntal complexity that one practically needs an extra arm to execute its challenges.

Once we settled on what to record, we began considering how to record it. Often instrumental music is recorded with a wide acoustic aperture in order to give the sensation of being in the audience of a great hall. While there are wonderful examples of this approach, we felt that a certain viceral excitement was missing at such a distance---the sound, afterall, is nothing like what one hears on stage. As performers, we want our listeners to experience the feeling of being on stage, to hear what we hear, and we've sculpted this album to shorten the distance between audience and performer. The result to us is a more invigorating, authentic, and exciting listening experience that allows this extraordinary music to speak in a more direct way.

A Gentle Notion is a labor of love between two friends and artistic collaborators. It tries to answer the "why" question about recording itself and provide a pathway into a new body of repertoire. We are excited to share our answers to these questions. Step on stage with us.