Emile Souvagie (°1999) started his studies at the Academy of Performing Arts in Aalst with Angélique Steenhaut. He now studies at the art humanities of the Lemmens Institute in Leuven with Greet Severens. Emile won the Benelux Prize in his category at the International Clarinet Competition in Ghent in 2014. He also played as a soloist with the East Flemish Chamber Orchestra. He has also been associated with the Euregio Youth Orchestra since the 2014-2015 season. He has already toured with this orchestra in major concert halls in Belgium and the Netherlands. He took a masterclass with Benjamin Dieltjens and Jean-Luc Votano.
Firgun Quintet receive support from YBT. YBT has shot a full hi-resolution 24bit video of The Firgun Quintet performing the beautiful and yet rather unknown Rêverie Orientale for clarinet and string quartet by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936). Recorded in one day, alongside Vilmos Csikos’ ‘Paganiniana’. Check it out, it’s mesmerising!
YOUNG UNDER THE SPELL OF OLD
Interview with Emile Souvagie. Click here to read the article.
HE GROW UP WITH TWO PARENTS WHO SANG, HAS A GIRLFRIEND WHO PLAYS VIOLIN AND WOULD LIKE TO TAKE MORE TIME TO READ ERNEST HEMINGWAY. HE STUDIES CLARINET AND AS AN ERASMUS STUDENT, HAD THE CHANCE TO STUDY FOR A YEAR IN STOCKHOLM. COVID-19 ABRUPTLY PUT AN END TO IT. AFTER SEVEN MONTHS, EMILE WAS BACK IN BELGIUM
I found it regrettable but also understandable. The first weeks at home I wondered when I could go back to Stockholm, because at that time I did not realise that my time there was definitely over. I was being taught by Hermann Stefánsson, an Icelander and leader of the clarinets’ in the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. In Sweden I had all the time in the world to work on the basics. Refining my technique to the finest detail. Because of my student status, I could attend all concerts of the Symphony Orchestra of the Swedish Radio and The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for free. Back in Belgium I was able to continue my lessons via Skype and Zoom, but I found them rather frustrating because working on tonal colours became almost impossible. I like listening to livestream concerts, but it’s not the same as being there. I’m more easily distracted.
How do you see your future?
Last February I turned 21. I decided to finish my second master year of clarinet in Brussels. I also decided to follow a shortened bachelor’s programme in Early Music Historical Clarinet, the goal being to get the most out of my programme and to graduate with high marks. After that, I want to take an additional master’s degree abroad. Of course, everything depends on the Corona epidemic and on whether the historical clarinet continues to fascinate me. The choice for an additional instrument increases my chances for the future.
How did you end up with historical instruments?
My mother sings Baroque and was a member of Philippe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale for almost 23 years. So, I have attended many concerts played on historical instruments and I am familiar with instruments from that period. So, it was only logical that I would immerse myself in their characteristic sound. A few years ago, I bought a book by Eric Hoeprich (the god of historical clarinets). For twenty years he has been teaching the main subject ‘Historical Clarinet’ at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. I have also attended a number of his lectures.
As a sixteen-year-old you conjured up a warm and spacious sound from your clarinet during the finals of YBT to express what is important to you. Playing an historical instrument must feel completely different, doesn’t it?
Indeed, most historical clarinets have a very clear, somewhat light sound. Some see this contrast with the modern clarinet as an obstacle. A modern clarinet gives me that velvet sound that made me fall in love with it in the first place, but an historical clarinet allows me to produce a lighter articulation characteristic of the repertoire from Classicism.
I can imagine that the embouchure is completely different. Isn’t it true that a classic instrument has fewer valves?
Yes, and it also has a narrower mouthpiece and therefore is quite different. I am currently borrowing an instrument from my teacher. The repertoire for this instrument ranges from Mozart’s classicism to the start of Weber’s romanticism.
Mozart had the basset clarinet designed for his clarinet concerto.
I dream of one day performing the concerto myself on such an historic basset clarinet. This gives me the opportunity to get into the spirit of Mozart and to discover why the basset clarinet claims such a prominent place in his compositi ons. In the end it doesn’t matter which instrument you use. We are all trying to tell a story. In my case the clarinet is my way of doing it. However, the story must always come first.
What are your plans for the near future?
Hopefully all concerts planned for the next summer with my Firgun Ensemble (clarinet and string quartet) will go ahead and we can also perform for the third ti me at the Grachten festival in Amsterdam. Next year we will be part of the Dutch String Quartet Academy where we will be taught on a regular basis by major teachers and (former) members of famous string quartets through masterclasses.
You have succeeded in making your clarinet part of a series of masterclasses for String Quartets.
They see it as a nice additi on to their programme. In the end, for them the music is central and the art of playing in a quartet remains with us and is even extended. I learn a lot by watching my string colleagues and vice versa. They also discover the art of playing a wind instrument. Because we are less aware of the difficulti es of each other’s instrument, we tend to look for the best musical solution without knowing what’s easiest on our instrument, which in my opinion gives us an honest, natural interpretation of the music. By the way, there are very few instruments that mix as well with strings as a clarinet!
Which clarinet concerto would you choose if you were allowed to play with an orchestra?
Without doubt, I would choose Carl Nielsen’s clarinet concerto. Since my studies in Stockholm, I have discovered the Scandinavian way of playing that is necessary for this piece. I would need to be hard and aggressive when I have to, but also lyrical and sweet when I can. The concerto shows all facets of the clarinet and that is where the difficulty lies. It carries with it a kind of hysteria that alternates with beautiful, almost folk like melodies. It is a work that pushes the boundaries of romance and by adding a snare drum it also stands with both feet in the twentieth century, and thus acquires a very distinctive character. Fascinating!