For Clarinet Month on Bachtrack, we decided to conduct short interviews with clarinettists of some of the leading orchestras to get a view from the principal's desk and to learn more about the role of the clarinet within an orchestra. Alessandro Carbonare, principal clarinet with the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, shares his love for Rome, Paris and Brahms.

© Lorenzo Baldrighi Artists Mangement
© Lorenzo Baldrighi Artists Mangement

What made you choose the clarinet?

I started very early when I was five years old. My fingers were quite short and therefore the clarinet was a good instrument. So it was for that simple reason that I chose the clarinet. When they gave me the instrument, it was like a toy and it’s still a toy for me.

Did you have any clarinet heroes, clarinettists you’ve looked up to?

My clarinet hero is the American clarinettist Richard Stoltzman. For me, everything he does is fantastic and I’m craving love for him.

How long have you been playing with the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia?

For 13 year years, I started in 2004. Before that, I was with the Orchestre National de France in Paris and I think those are two beautiful cities, Paris and Rome.

What’s your favourite orchestral solo? (Why?)

I have many, but I think, now that I’m in Rome, it’s the solo of Pini di Roma by Ottorino Respighi.

What’s your most dreaded orchestral solo? (And why?!)

Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony! That’s the most difficult solo, well, Beethoven is always difficult.

What’s your favourite clarinet concerto?

I could say Mozart, for sure. But I play the Copland Concerto very often and I think in this moment, it’s Aaron Copland, it’s fantastic. I’m a classical musician, but I also play a little bit of  jazz and this is somewhere in the middle. I like it a lot, because it gives me the possibility to open my mind a little bit more.

Which clarinet work do you think is most unfairly neglected?

I think that I’m lucky, because the clarinet has a very good repertoire and we have some incredible works. I’d like to play the Brahms Quintet a bit more often, I’d like to spend my life playing this work every day.

Do you get opportunities to perform concertos with your orchestra? What’s your most memorable performance as a concerto soloist?

Every two years I play a concerto with my orchestra and every year I play chamber music with members of the orchestra. We get the opportunity to spend time together and to play together outside the orchestra repertoire which is very important.

Can you give us a funny conductor anecdote? (Anonymous if need be!)

For 15 years I was the principal clarinet with Claudio Abbado. He was one of the funniest conductors to work with. He thinks serious, but he talks very funny. And I remember we played Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and I started playing the solo in the second movement when he stopped and tried to explain to me how to play it! It was very strange, because normally, Claudio didn’t do this and it was almost impossible to understand and the entire orchestra was laughing. Claudio tried for ten minutes and then he told me, “Alessandro, I’m sorry. You played it fantastically. If you play it like this we will be okay.”

And finally, for the real clarinet nerds, what make of clarinet and what make and strength of reed do you play? Do you play on plastic reeds as well?

I play a Selmer clarinet, an instrument made for me. I play Vandoren reeds and, the model named V12 and the strength is 3.5. I tested plastic reeds and for a while I worked with someone in Canada who builds these reeds, but I don’t like them. It’s very easy, but I can’t imagine the same sound for every composer. I need different reeds, different sounds for different composers. With plastic reeds you have the same reed for months. It’s fantastic for students, because you play without any problems, but I’m a professional and when I play Mozart or when I play Brahms I need something different. I need to change the sound.