Christopher Nichols and The Inside Story: Tranquility for Creativity

Clarinetist Christopher Nichols debuts on Navona Records with ELEGIA. Nichols is nationally and internationally active as a solo performer, performing at venues such as the International Clarinet Association and European Clarinet Association conferences and for the College Music Society. In 2015, his solo work garnered him an Established Artist Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts. Today, Nichols is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to see Nichols thoughts on tranquility for creativity.

Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?

Among the first recordings of clarinet recital literature, I ever heard included French Clarinet Art by Paul Meyer; Encores by Emma Johnson; the celebrated Mozart Clarinet Concerto recording of Robert Marcellus; and Aria by Richard Stoltzman. Prior to this, I had no exposure to the clarinet as a solo instrument, beyond assigned district honor band solos. These recordings totally opened the world of the clarinet to me. Each of these artists performs in their own unique manner and is an amazing musician in their own right. At that time, I found Richard Stoltzman particularly inspiring, as he plays every note, every phrase and every piece with such intention. That was so influential – I remember wanting everything to sound just as convincing in my own performances from that point forward (I am still working on that actually!). As a college student at the Boston Conservatory, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear him in live recital at New England Conservatory and meet him once at a concert he attended! I remember that he was such a gracious person and I think that is so important in daily life.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Doing absolutely nothing. A career in music is demanding and one can start to feel particularly crazed with the daily laundry list. However, one simply needs to balance this with repose, but I must force myself to set aside time for this, as I am not inclined to sitting still. Tranquility is important for creativity.

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?

Of all the places I have been, I found Germany especially to be the most inspirational. The clarinet’s birthplace is in Nuremberg, there is so much beautiful architecture, and the history of everything is amazing and old. In addition, I find being in a non-English speaking country to be very relaxing. In a café, there may be many people chatting, but it is somehow quiet as I am not fluent in that language.

Elegia

What was your favorite musical moment on the album?

One of my favorite works from the traditional clarinet repertoire is included on this disc, Camille Saint-Saën’s Clarinet Sonata, Op. 167. He ends it in a peculiar way and seems so sentimental to me. The fourth movement is full of virtuosic flourishes and exploits the full range of the instrument. However, rather than ending in the expected flashy manner, Saint-Saën’s chose to return to the opening material from the first movement and ends the sonata in a quiet, reflective manner.

Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to perform than the others?

This is more of a trend that specific to the album, but I always find unaccompanied literature more challenging than that with piano. I naturally drift towards collaboration and chamber music settings – I like teamwork and a group effort. Perhaps the United States Army beat the teamwork aspect into me! On this disc, John Cage’s Sonata for Solo Clarinet is a particularly interesting and challenging work, as it departs from traditional notation. It uses only flats as accidentals and those only apply to the note they directly precede. When first learning it, it was quite disorienting! I ended up adding in all the naturals to “fix it.” There are no dynamics indicated and few articulations and musicians use the printed page as a point of departure for interpretation. However, there is none of that in the Cage Sonata – only notes and rhythm. It is similar to unaccompanied Bach suites in that way but without clearly implied harmony. It was a new experience and I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to perform it in an artistic manner while staying true to his guidance.

What does this album mean to you personally?

I relocated to Delaware for a faculty position at the University of Delaware in 2013. Every work on this disc has some connection to my life and career in Delaware since then. Some examples: Aurelio Magnani’s Elegia, the title track, was the first work I performed with Julie Nishimura for the annual faculty gala. She is an amazing friend and terrific collaborative pianist – truly world class in every respect. Kevin J. Cope gave me a copy of Sirocco along with a few other compositions with guitar – we have since collaborated for concerts, as Kevin is also a fine guitarist! Shortly after arriving in Delaware, I received an invitation to perform for a Cage festival organized by New Music Delaware. I had previously been unfamiliar with the Cage Sonata and that is how I learned of it! The Cavallini, Verdi, and Rabaud are in a rotation for all-state honor band auditions here in Delaware, so I thought I should include those as well.

This album celebrates the wonderful music and musicians that are a part of our community in The First State.

Christopher Nichols Navona Records release ELEGIA will be released Friday, September 8th. Pre-order here

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