This music bears no resemblance to the ear-assaulting squeaks of beginner band in sixth grade. When virtuoso Narek Arutyunian plays his bassett clarinet, the “licorice stick” awakens to his touch. Before he performed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto K. 622, the humble 25-year-old sat with conductor and artistic director of the Newport Symphony, Adam Flatt, and shared a bit of his life.
He had found music at the age of nine; Mozart, a recording of the concerto that will woo and win us over, first worked its magic on this young boy. By age 11 he had claimed top prizes in competitions worldwide. His parents, both musicians, didn’t want him to travel the same difficult and often thankless path. The bassett clarinet he will play tonight, he tells us, will allow us to hear Mozart as the composer intended. This version of the clarinet, unlike the b-flat or a instruments typically used in performance, includes the deeper octave— a haunting, resonant register—as he demonstrates.
To say Narek is passionate about music understates the waves of reverence and joy emanating from him. In recounting an experience where he’d had two of his clarinets stolen while eating dinner in a New York City restaurant, he explained: “It’s losing part of my soul. That’s what I tell the police at the station.” They tell him to “forget about it,” that the instruments are gone. So, he says, “I go to another police station.” The audience chuckles. The upshot? The instruments are returned to the restaurant, the man and his soul reunited.
Words cannot capture this. Never has the phrase, “You had to be there,” been so true. After his concerto, the audience rises to its feet in a singular motion, applause, applause, applause. Earlier this week, a fellow blogger had written about feeling inadequate in the company of friends who understand art so much better than she, who can discuss with intelligence and insight. I sympathized. I am not one who grasps nuances of fine art or classical music. Last night, however, analysis sat in second chair. Greatness took the stage, and everyone knew it.