Clarinetist Eric Hoeprich — who attended Emerson Junior High and Davis High School as a teen in the late ’60s and early ’70s — returns this week for a concert at the Mondavi Center with the London Haydn Quartet.
Hoeprich has returned to Davis at least twice in recent years. He was inducted into the DHS Hall of Fame in September 2012, and he performed at the Mondavi Center in November 2012 in the clarinet section of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (an all-Beethoven program, conducted by Nicholas McGegan).
At 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall, Hoeprich will be featured in a performance of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A (K. 581). Hoeprich will be playing a basset clarinet — the sort of instrument Mozart had in mind when he composed the quintet in 1789, capable of playing a third lower than a conventional clarinet.
“This concert is special for me in so many ways,” Hoeprich said in an email interview. “First, to be playing back in Davis is definitely a homecoming. My mother will be there, as well as my sister and brother, and two nieces. (My father, who died in 2004, was on the faculty of the UCD Medical School.) Several old friends from Davis High School, and from Emerson, where I had clarinet lessons from Margaret Neu, will be there, too.”
Hoeprich credits his junior high and high school teachers in Davis for spurring him on to a career in music. While Hoeprich was studying at Emerson Junior High, Neu arranged for him to play some clarinet and piano pieces with Dick Brunelle (who taught music at DHS) at a festival in Sacramento. When Hoeprich moved up to DHS, he played in the orchestra under Brunelle, and also sang in the Madrigals for a year. Hoeprich also took classes with Rachel Kessler when Brunelle took a study leave.
“These experiences were absolutely critical in my development, and I remember many aspects as though they were yesterday,” Hoeprich told The Enterprise. He added that in addition to helping him develop his musical skills, these teachers “had studied in Europe and at large and important schools in the United States. … Mrs. Neu studied in Salzburg, a lovely town (in Austria) where I have played concerts in the Salzburg Festival. Mrs. Kessler studied at Indiana University in Bloomington, where I am now on the faculty.” Hoeprich also serves on the faculty at the Conserrvatoire de Paris, and the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.
Hoeprich has become an internationally known scholar, performer and instrument maker specializing in clarinets from the late 1700s, the 1800s and 1900s. And he added that he developed his ability to work on instruments during ”a course in woodworking under teacher Pierre Neu at Emerson Junior High, where I acquired the skills necessary to make these early clarinets myself.”
“The clarinets used in the late 18th century differ considerably from those played today,” Hoeprich explained. “The principals are the same in that it still has a mouthpiece and a reed, but the physical characteristics such as the wood (boxwood instead of ebony or grenadilla) and fewer keys make them sound different. When you combine them in an orchestra or chamber ensemble, the listener enters a sound world that is extraordinary — and importantly, one that the great composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven would have known. I believe they would have appreciated out modern instruments, but very likely would have written completely different music for them.”
Hoeprich often plays a basset clarinet that is based on an engraving from Riga (in Latvia). “This is a special clarinet that Mozart wrote for in his Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto, with an extended lower range … it makes these amazing pieces sound completely different compared with the modern clarinet.”
Hoeprich has a collection of 100 different clarinets. “Fortunately, clarinets are fairly small … It’s an essential part of what I do to use a variety of instruments, and to study and compare instruments of different design and provenance. You cannot play Vivaldi on a clarinet for Weber, and Mozart and Beethoven are again different. It’s a bit fussy, but definitely fascinating.”
Hoeprich gathered much of what he’s learned in a highly regarded book — appropriately titled “The Clarinet” — which was published by Yale University Press in 2008.
“It was a large project, and it took nearly 10 years to complete … there were long periods when I was unable to write and do research, given a heavy touring schedule (as a performer),” he said. In addition to covering the history of the clarinet in classical music, the book includes a chapter about the clarinet in bands, folk music and jazz.
Hoeprich will be appearing at Mondavi with the London Haydn Quartet, with whom Hoeprich has recorded the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets (for the Glossa label). In addition to performing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet with Hoeprich, the London Haydn Quartet will play Haydn’s String Quartet in B flat (Op. 50, No. 1) and Beethoven’s String Quartet in D (Op. 18, No. 3). Founded in 2000, the London Haydn Quartet has released several widely acclaimed albums featuring string quartets by Haydn on the Hyperion label. And there is a family connection as well: “Catherine Manson, the first violin of the London Haydn Quartet, is my wife,” Hoeprich said.
Tickets for the concert by clarinetist Eric Hoeprich and the London Haydn Quartet are $12 to $17 general, $8 students, and available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787. The concert is sponsored by the UC Davis music department.