by Michael Cirigliano II
Jon Manasse has brought career versatility to a
whole new level in today’s classical-music landscape. In addition to his roles
as principal in the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, as well as the orchestras of the
American Ballet Theater and Mostly Mozart Festival, Manasse has recently
received wide acclaim as half of the Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo, commissioning and
touring across the world with pianist and longtime collaborator, Jon Nakamatsu.
Known for his laser-sharp technique and unique vocal sound,
Manasse is a lifetime New York resident, having grown up on Long Island before
moving to New York City for his extensive degree work at the Juilliard School.
And although teaching and performing engagements have him zigzagging across the
globe these days, the clarinetist finds himself at home this week, as he
prepares for a diverse program of trios with the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble. I
had the chance to sit down with Manasse to discuss life as a dynamic
artist, his meditative performance style, and heralding the next generation of elite
FoM: Let’s start
off by talking about your early studies. For a substantial period of time, you
studied with noted clarinet pedagogue David Weber. What aspects of your time
with him helped you to hone your craft, transitioning you from Juilliard and
into the early stages of your professional career?
JM: Well, it’s
interesting to know that he was actually my first clarinet teacher. Prior to
that I was playing the saxophone, since I actually really disliked the clarinet
and had never heard it played in a way that attracted me to it.
I came into contact with Weber in a serendipitous way. My
father used to take me to a famous music store at the time called Ponte Music
Company. Charlie Ponte, the owner, brought my father and me to the back of the
store one day, and I was like a kid in a candy shop. I was entranced by all of
the equipment, and according to my father, there was something that Mr. Ponte
heard in my clarinet playing. He thought I should take serious clarinet
lessons, and said there was only one name he would recommend in New York City
at the time: David Weber.
I still had no interest in the clarinet at the time. Even
when I would go to orchestra concerts, I was bewildered that there was no
saxophone section. My early interest was in swing and jazz, but I always loved
the sound of classical music, too, so that was the incentive to eventually immerse
myself in the clarinet.
David Weber was a strict and dogmatic teacher—very specific
in his concept, which was a beautiful bel
canto sound. His whole approach was that if you didn’t have a
voice, you couldn’t sing. The pure, bell-like, smooth, and velvety sound was
extremely compelling, and I took off from there. I did as he told me to do from
early on, becoming my teacher for two degrees at Juilliard and beyond.