Alexander Bedenko, clarinettist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I was born and raised in a family of musicians. During my childhood I was always surrounded by music, whether it was when my mom was composing one of her many musicals, or when my father was practicing his violin at home. This obviously made a very strong impact on my early interest in music and I understood that becoming a musician would be the most logical and natural path for my life. I started my early musical education at the Kharkov special music school, one of the only eight special music schools in the former Soviet Union. I started playing the recorder at first, and four years later, my father chose clarinet as my main instrument for my further education.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was a very fortunate to have some great teachers through different stages of my life. From the very first steps as a clarinettist each of them influenced my development and drew me into a beautiful and endless path of learning this beautiful instrument. Early in my music education I discovered the clarinet’s unique personality and sound, which I consider to be closest to the human voice.

The people who influenced me most were my very first school teacher and a great believer in my talent, Valery Altukhov, my dear mentor and legendary musician Ivan Mozgovenko, my first clarinet idol and icon Phillip Cuper, whose recordings of the Weber clarinet concertos I still remember. My very first American teacher and a legendary clarinettist Sydney Forrest, with whom I studied for 4 summers at the Interlocken Arts Camp and who has opened my eyes and really helped me to realize that there is more than one interpretation of every piece of music. With Mr. Forrest I learned a lot about the form and structure and to this day I keep the scores with his handwritten suggestions and phrasing.

Of course I would like to mention my teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music, Donald Montanaro, who taught me some very crucial aspects of clarinet playing, its legacy, style, and whohas influenced my fundamental understanding of the clarinet ‘s sound, its nuances and tendencies.

However, when I was 22 years old, I met the strongest inspiration of my life as a clarinettist – Kalmen Opperman, about whom I think I will write a short book at some point to make sure I pass his legacy and immortal dedication to his students and the clarinet itself for future generations.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My first significant moments of my performing career were live performances back in 1995 when I performed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the orchestra of my hometown, the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra, and also the Weber Concertino with the Yalta State Symphony Orchestra under direction of Vladimir Sirenko in 1998, if I am remember correctly.

Another unforgettable experience was my live performance of Prokofiev Overture on Hebrew Themes at the Verbier Festival in 2010 with the dream team of some of the greatest musicians today: Nikolay Lugansky, Daniel Hope, Vilee Frang, Gautier Capucon and David Aaron Carpenter.

And of course, I am very proud of my most recent CD (released by Orchid Classics) with works by Brahms and Beethoven with Kyril Zlotnikov and Itamar Golan. It was a tremendously enjoyable collaboration, which resulted in what I think is a great recording of a very creative interpretation of Brahms and Beethoven trios.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel very strong affinity with the music of Brahms. I can identify with his way of expressing musical language, with his turmoil and passion for love and life in general, which really speaks to my soul. When I play the works of Brahms, I feel that I project and really connect to his ideas through his magical musical lines and harmonies exactly as he meant them to be…..It is, of course, only my personal opinion, but I always feel most comfortable and natural on stage when playing Brahms……

I also wish Gustav Mahler had composed something for clarinet later on in his life. I think it would have resulted in some of the best сlarinet music ever written …

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Unlike the symphonic repertoire, where I believe clarinet solo offerings are rich and beautiful in the scores of every great composer, clarinet solo repertoire is quite limited.

Clarinettists have to either make new clarinet arrangements of existing music, or commission new works to bring some excitement for the audience and to draw more attention to the clarinet as a solo instrument.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Yes, I do – the Zurich Tonhalle, which I found absolutely phenomenal acoustically and one of the most beautiful halls in the world aesthetically. It carries the sound all the way to the last row without you having to make any extra effort.  One can hear every small detail and nuance in this great hall.

Who are your favourite musicians?

If I really have to choose I think I would say Sergei Rachmaninoff, who is my favourite composer and Vladimir Horowitz whose recordings and books about him by David Dubal I have collected and know by heart…..

Also, an interesting fact is that Vladimir Horowitz’s sister Regina Horowitz, who was also a phenomenal pianist, was a piano teacher at the school where I grew up and she knew my mom very well. When I was 2 years old, she used to walk me in the park while my mom was teaching  classes……yes it’s true, but it’s not why I adore and love Vladimir Horowitz……I think he was the only pianist, at least in my opinion, who made the piano sound like an orchestra and could create such colours and nuances, that I personally never ever heard before…..

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I can confess that it was my very first concert on the European tour where I was playing guest principal clarinettist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, by invitation of Riccardo Muti.
That was THE concert of my life, the most memorable and unforgettable music making experience and energy when I was giving all of myself for this orchestra, for the Maestro and for the audience. And what I felt during the standing ovation to the orchestra was that I gave on stage even more than I could, more than I could possibly project and say…..I was completely under the spell of the musical leadership and passion of Maestro Muti and that feeling will remain in my heart and memory for the rest of my life.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To me success is a dead silence during your performance on stage, when you can hear someone’s breath from the audience and when after the concert you see people’s eyes full of joy and sometimes tears and sense the sincere enrichment of their souls.  When your interpretation, your pain, your joy, your narration reaches their hearts……that is a success! Even if you touch only one listener……it’s still priceless in my book

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I can only say what inspired me and hope that this will also inspire other young musicians.  In my case it was a tremendous desire to become a better musician every day (as compared to myself the day before).

My teacher Kalmen Opperman, to whom I owe everything I do as a clarinettist, used to say “it’s only matter of hours, Alex…..when you are asleep at 6am, some other clarinettist is already practicing…….don’t be like everyone else – work….work….” .I also think that for an aspiring musician it is very important to be open-minded, to learn about the music they perform, to know literature, art, but most importantly to learn something from everyone they admire and respect.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I wouldn’t want to look naive and tell the God about my plans…I don’t want him to laugh at me, so I think I’ll just continue live my life day by day and let’s see what happens!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To love and being loved!

What is your present state of mind?

I am in love with life!

The multi-award-winning clarinettist Alexander Bedenko is one of the most prolific artists of his generation and has performed with major conductors of leading orchestras, ensembles and festivals in the United States, Europe and Asia. 

Born in Ukraine, into a family of musicians, Alexander Bedenko graduated from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied clarinet with Donald Montanaro and chamber music with Pamela Frank, Peter Wiley and Joseph Silverstein.

Alexander Bedenko has won first prizes at the || Moscow International Young Artist’s Competition in 1994, the Interlochen Center for the Arts “Concerto Competition” (1995-1996), the Grand-Prix and Laureate at the International Selmer Clarinet Competition in Kiev, (1999) and was a recipient scholarship of the “New Names” Charity Foundation, Vladimir Spivakov’s Foundation and the named scholarship of The President of Ukraine, from (1997-1999).

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