Principal Clarinet Laura Llewellyn prepares for an exciting and unique performance as part of DSO’s 2023 season-opening performance, Dances of Fire

Kodály’s Dances of Galánta is a beautiful work packed with plenty of Hungarian flair and energy. The piece is inspired by dances from the folk tradition and will feature Laura mimicking the traditional single reed instrument, the Tarogato, on her clarinet.

Laura Llewellyn with Darwin Symphony Orchestra for Dvořák and Beethoven in 2022.

Tell us a bit about Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. Is this your first encounter with this type of Hungarian folk-inspired music?

Kodály’s Dances of Galánta was written in 1933 and features a variety of traditional Hungarian dances where the clarinet is featured prominently in several of the movements. The clarinet writing in this piece is characterized by its virtuosity, expressiveness, and its ability to capture the spirit of Hungarian folk music.

 Growing up my school music teacher was an avid jazz musician who encouraged us to explore improvisation. I took an interest in this skill and enjoyed playing music from different places around the world throughout my musical training finishing my Bachelor of Music degree with a performance of the Klezmer Concerto by Ofer Ben-Amots’. The cadenzas throughout Kodály’s work are filled with hints of the complex chord progressions, modal scales, and sense of rhythmic tension which is present in jazz and world music. I personally find this so interesting to play.

In this piece, you use the clarinet to mimic the Tarogato, a traditional single-reed instrument. How is playing in this style different from your usual clarinet playing style?

The Tarogato is known for its nasal-like sound which is distinctly different to the modern-day clarinet. To mimic this sound in our performance I have had to practice some techniques such as pitch bends to create microtonal inflections and glissandi in the way that tarogato players often embellish their melodies. Tarogato players also use a sharp, biting attack to emphasize the rhythm and drive of the music so you may hear parts where I experimented with different articulations and phrasings to achieve a more staccato and percussive sound.

How have you been preparing for this piece? What does your rehearsal routine look like? Are there any particularly challenging or enjoyable sections in the music?

I have been looking forward to preparing this work since last year when the 2023 concert season was announced. I had played this work in a youth orchestra in the past and knew the enjoyable and challenging parts that I would need to practice. There have been definite challenges to master in this work. The final cadenza which involves an ascending trill in the third register played at a very soft volume is the final hurdle of the piece to master and every clarinet player’s nightmare’. I have spent many weekends practicing long notes and driving my dog Harry mad. A highlight has been playing the cadenzas and the rubato melody in the first section which pops up throughout the work in different ways.

What should the audience listen or look out for in this piece of music?

The interaction between the strings and this melody is something to listen out for.

You can hear Laura performing Kodály’s Dances of Galánta with Darwin Symphony Orchestra in Dances of Fire, on Saturday 18 March, at Darwin Entertainment Centre.

Tickets are on sale now.