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Alex Morris on finding the bass clarinet

01 May, 2020

Principal Bass Clarinet Alexander Morris recalls how he was drawn to his instrument and the importance of the bass clarinet in the Orchestra.

Written by Principal Bass Clarinet Alexander Morris

I initially picked up the bass clarinet out of necessity.

I was given some very good advice by a mentor of mine to try and be proficient on the 'auxiliary' members of the clarinet family like bass clarinet and Eflat clarinet for the sake of being more employable. Sure enough, it was the bass clarinet that led me into my first professional gigs, although I think it took me a while to fall in love with the instrument.

As a clarinet player, coming to grips with a much larger and much lower instrument is a lot to get used to at first, even though the keys all do roughly the same thing. For the first few months (maybe years!) of playing bass clarinet I would always be a little unsure what note was going to come out of the instrument – I feel like the bass clarinet can smell fear and will never miss an opportunity to squeak loudly if you’re not entirely comfortable!

Boismortier Sonata Bass Clarinet Duet

Performed by Alex Morris.

Over time, I became more confident with the instrument, and I also began to relish my role within the orchestra. The bass clarinet usually functions as a part of the harmonic texture in the woodwind section and is not often heard by itself in an orchestral concert. However, when it is, it’s often a moment of pivotal importance in a piece of music.

I think my favourite thing about the bass clarinet is it’s deep sound that can adopt many different characters from slapstick comedy in works like Strauss Don Quixote to being incredibly mournful in moments like King Marke’s aria in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. I love these moments, and being a part of the bass end of the orchestra.

Sharing my music making with audiences and colleagues is a remarkable privilege that I miss every day during this shutdown. I certainly hope we can get back to doing what we love soon!