Eric Hoeprich is one of the world’s great performers and authorities on the early clarinet. He is also director of the wind ensemble Nachtmusique and author of a book on the clarinet’s history published by Yale University Press.
I recently asked Eric about his chosen instrument, ensemble, and upcoming projects.
How did you come to play the early clarinet?
The clarinet was my first instrument, which I started to play when I was 7 years old. In my teens I noticed that there was little or no Baroque music for the clarinet so I started to play the recorder although I did continue with the clarinet.
Eventually I became quite serious about the recorder and went to The Netherlands to study with Frans Brüggen, with whom I’d already had lessons at Harvard College when I was in my first year there. While I was in The Hague I started to make instruments, and also saw that there was an 18th-century version of the clarinet made of boxwood and started to play and make these as well.
One of your specialties is playing 18th-century clarinets. Can you tell us the differences between today’s version and ones from back then?
The most important differences lie in the number of keys and the wood that was used to make clarinets in the 18th century. A typical Viennese School clarinet had 5 keys, which is sufficient for playing this music.
There is a certain skill required to execute the cross-fingerings in order to produce all the notes in the music, but this has the added advantage of giving the instrument great variation in timbre throughout its scale. The instrument body was usually made from boxwood, a lighter wood than the usual ebony or grenadilla of today’s clarinets.
When did you establish Nachtmusique?
The wind ensemble Nachtmusique was started in 1989 with members of the Orchestra of the 18th Century, and has performed around the world including several tours in the USA and in Australia.
Your book, “The Clarinet,” a history of the instrument, was published by Yale University Press not long ago. How long did it take you to write?
This was a large project, and having never written a book, it took nearly ten years to complete, although of course there were long periods when I was unable to write and do research, given a heavy touring schedule.
What are some of your future projects?
Continuing with my wind ensemble is a priority, and collaborating with the London Haydn Quartet is also ongoing. Alongside this, however there are always interesting projects with a variety of ensembles.
This year I’ll play the Mozart clarinet concerto with several orchestras, as well as some other solo repertoire such as the virtually unknown concerto by Karol Kurpinsky, to be performed in Warsaw at the Chopin Festival in August.
A newish Belgian ensemble, “B’rock”, has commissioned a solo work for chalumeau and orchestra from the Dutch composer Pim Moorer, which will be premiered in April. Also, the wonderful pianist and harpsichordist Andreas Staier and I have been in touch about a Schumann-Brahms program which hopefully will take shape this year.