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. To start this mini-series, we’d like to introduce you to Oliver Janes, Principal Clarinet with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Oliver Janes © Upstream Photography
Oliver Janes
© Upstream Photography
What made you choose the clarinet?

When I was younger, I learnt the violin, and it never really clicked with me (I was also very lazy!) and at school I learnt the treble recorder with my grandad, John Fuest. He was Principal Clarinet with the CBSO for 15 years in the 50s and 60s and when I decided to pack in the violin he said to my mum "Why don’t I give him a go on the clarinet?", to which my mum replied "Let’s see how long this lasts"! And the rest is history! I loved the sound of the instrument, the versatility and even when playing the violin I just loved orchestral music so it all came together in my love for the clarinet.

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

Obviously my grandad was a huge role model, and growing up in Manchester I listened to the BBC Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras so I was incredibly lucky to hear such amazing clarinet playing.

How long have you been playing with the CBSO?

I’ve been in the CBSO for three and a half years, and it still feels as exciting as it did when I first joined!

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

My favourite is probably Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin, it’s a real showcase for the instrument and all the different timbres it can produce. Also it’s a duet or trio with the whole clarinet section so you're not completely on your own which is always a nice feeling.

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

Beethoven 5, the end of the third movement! I don’t know why, but I dread it every time I see it coming up. All it is, is four short, quiet crotchet As repeated twice. It sounds and looks so simple, but I find it the hardest solo to play! What's even more frustrating is that the oboe plays the same passage four bars later and makes it sound so easy!

What’s your favourite clarinet concerto?

My favourite clarinet concerto to listen to (not play!) is the Nielsen. It’s so exciting and really shows off the extremes of the instrument.

Which clarinet work do you think is most unfairly neglected?

Herbert Howells' Clarinet Sonata is a masterpiece; a beautifully lyrical first movement and then a really exciting second movement. I could listen to it all day!

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

I performed Copland’s Clarinet Concerto just over a year ago which was such a fantastic experience. It was the first time I’d done a concerto with the CBSO and on the radio. My family all came to watch, and all the orchestral players who weren’t in the piece came to watch too which meant so much to me. The orchestra is like my second family and it was amazing to feel such support. I also remember performing the second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, I can’t remember where, and just as the last note died away, someone in the audience threw up... that’s memorable in a different way!

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

Last year the clarinets in CBSO weren’t needed for a week (St Matthew's Passion should be programmed more often!), so we went on a skiing trip. We’d booked a late flight back which would have got us back to Birmingham just in time for a rehearsal with the orchestra’s Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. All it would have taken was one thing to go wrong and there wouldn’t have been any clarinets to rehearse Beethoven 5! Whilst waiting anxiously at the gate, thinking no one would’ve noticed we’d been away, we couldn’t believe it when we heard Mirga’s distinctive laugh coming from the next queue! So after all our panicking, Mirga had cut it just as fine as us! The end of the story is we all made it to the rehearsal on time and sadly I still had to play my most dreaded solo!

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 on Buffet DG clarinets (as do the whole CBSO clarinet section) with a Vandoren B40 13 mouthpiece and Vandoren V12 reeds, strength 3.5.