Commended - Emily Dore

RPS Young Classical Writers Prize 2023


on Mozart's Clarinet Concerto

‘What does the clarinet sound like, Em?’

I looked up from the morning coffee my husband had just placed in front of me, surprised by his out of the blue question. He was wiping the drips and escaped grinds from his coffee machine, but his eyes were on me. Meeting his gaze and smiling, I said by way of reply, ‘Alexa, play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.’ The light cheerful sound of the orchestral opening filled our kitchen, instantly lifting me from my morning drowsiness. We waited expectantly together for the entry of the clarinet soloist.

Concertos are opportunities for instrumentalists to express themselves and to display their unique sound, whilst remaining in constant relationship with other musicians. It is this aspect of teamwork through diversity of sound and instruments that continues to draw me ever deeper into a love of orchestral music.

Until this year, I studied orchestral music and often sat beside clarinettists in my role as a bassoonist. I swooned over their soloistic melodies, admired the assertive virtuosity of louder passages, and felt in awe of how gently they could enter a musical phrase (not so easy on the bassoon!). Recently though, I began to envy my clarinettist friends for a new reason: the physical compactness and lightness of their instrument.

My bassoon, beautiful in its own way, is almost as tall as I am, and heavy. After years of intense practising and rehearsing I began to experience constant, exhausting back pain. Following some investigation, I found that it was directly linked to my posture whilst playing. Suddenly I had to stop playing my instrument at all.

Amidst this devastating career turn my husband and I got married. Our relationship moved into a new phase of shared experience, combining our contrasting worlds of music and medicine. I learned more about the inner workings of hospitals and medical practice, observing my husband come and go from work each day. I noted how highly he was societally valued as a doctor and I benefitted from his career throughout my recovery period in financial dependence. By contrast, I began to question the value of my career choices in this precious but seemingly far off world of classical music. I also stopped listening to it, until that morning…

My husband’s interest in clarinet was a rousing re-entry into a gorgeous world of musical and emotional voyage. The bubbling joy of the first movement and the sparkling clarity of the musical phrases was spellbinding. It recaptured my heart, leading me through stormy sections and sorrowful trials but always returning to joy. What did that clarinet sound like to me? That day it sounded like worthiness. Held close by my husband in our kitchen, as he repeatedly exclaimed how lovely the music was, I surrendered to the enticement of the warm orchestral sound. A hope was born that I would return to the glistening world of an orchestral concert. Even if not as a performer, there would be joy as a listener.