10 Questions: James Campbell

31 October 2013 / 10 Questions

In May 2014 we will be touring with virtuoso Canadian/American clarinetist James Campbell as part of Chamber Music New Zealand’s Kaleidoscope series. The tour repertoire includes the Mozart, Weber and Brahms clarinet quintets. We have enjoyed a long association with James Campbell and have performed together extensively with him. We recently chatted to James at his home in Indiana about his work, his life and the upcoming tour.

1. You are described in your bio as being a Canadian/American – tell us about where you grew up and where your roots are.

I have dual citizenship. I’ve lived and worked in the US for the past 25 years, but I’m Canadian by birth and attitude. I was born in Alberta in the West of Canada and went on to study in Toronto. After leaving university I went on to study in Paris.

2. How did you end up becoming a full-time musician and what was it that attracted you to the clarinet?

When I was at high school, I was put in a wind band and given a clarinet to play. I found that that I just could play it and there was no looking back. I also play jazz clarinet, saxophone, basic piano and in my early days played drums in a rock band. I pretty well stick with the clarinet now.

3. Teaching and education is obviously a strong feature in your life. Tell us about your role at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

I’ve been Professor of Music at Jacobs School of Music for 25 years now. It’s a wonderful music school that attracts students from 55 different countries. In my clarinet class alone there are students from six different countries. Incidentally this is the school where Helene Pohl gained her masters degree – that was before my time of course!

4. How does your professorship role fit overall into your working life as a musician?

In actual fact there are three main parts to my career. That includes my teaching role, my performing career and my role as artistic director of the Festival of Sound in Canada which I’ve been doing now for nearly 30 years.

5. Tell us more about the Festival of the Sound and your role there.

I programme the festival and choose the artists – something I enjoy doing very much. It’s a three and a half week annual festival that has 70 events in total, including 55 concerts and 15 interview type activities. It’s based at Parry Sound which is two and a half hours north of Toronto, right on Georgian Bay in the Canadian Shield, so it’s very picturesque. About 70% of the audience are from the Toronto area as we run this during the summer holiday period. The rest are from the US and Europe. We have a very loyal following of people who return every year, a bit like the Adam Chamber Festival in Nelson where I’ve played twice before. That’s a really wonderful festival also.

6. You’ve had an extensive international touring programme including giving masterclasses around the world. Tell us about some of these experiences.

There have been so many memorable touring experiences over the years, however being in China before 1984 and in Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell was extraordinary to look back on.

I’ve learned through working with young musicians around the world that they have the same issues wherever they are, but first and foremost and despite all else – they’re musicians. The key struggle for them all at the start is to master their instruments, so it’s very much a technical focus to begin with; then along with this is the artistic mastery of the music. Some pieces take a life-time to learn to play and also a life-time to learn to hear.

7. You have performed with a number of high profile musicians over the years including Glenn Gould and Aaron Copland jazz pianist Gene DiNovi. Tell us about some of these experiences.

As a 23 year-old I had the privilege to perform with Glenn Gould and this continued on and off for the next five years until his death. It was a wonderful experience for a young musician. I will always remember the first rehearsal I had with him – we weren’t able to be together so we got through the score by singing over the phone.

As you’ve noted I also worked with Aaron Copland. I’ll always remember him coming for dinner and hearing him talk about Paris in the 1920s. I’ve been playing with jazz great Gene DiNovi for 25 years including most recently just a week ago. Our two sons grew up together and mine (Graeme) is now a jazz guitarist living in Toronto. It’s a great joy for me to play with him also and we’ve recently recorded a CD that I’ll bring with me on tour next year.

8. You’ve had a long association with the NZSQ – how did you first meet the group and how has the relationship developed over the years?

I first met them near Parry Sound eleven years ago when we were put together to play in a festival. We got on really well together and have continued to meet up at the Parry Sound Festival on an annual basis.

I’ve always been impressed by the energy levels and the swimming ability of some of the NZSQ members. At our holiday cottage for example Rolf would swim across the lake and surprise people on the other side when he emerged from the water, only to turn around and swim back again.

The NZSQ has a special ten year milestone coming up next year at Parry Sound Festival so we’ll be looking forward to celebrating that in July 2014 when they’re over.

9. Tell us about the repertoire that you will be playing on the NZ tour next year.

The programmes we’re playing include the two greatest clarinet quintets ever written and some would say that the Brahms quintet is the greatest chamber work he ever wrote. These are all works that I know well and love to play. In actual fact I’ve done more than 300 performances of the Mozart quintet with over 35 different string quartets the first time being with the Guarneri String Quartet. Another memorable performance was with the Amadeus Quartet when I filled in for Benny Goodman who was unable to do the tour.

I’ve played with the New Zealand String Quartet so often that I really feel like a member of the group now. We’ve toured together through Canada as well as playing in numerous festivals together. I’m looking forward very much to the Naxos recording we’ll be doing together of the Brahms quintet. It’s great to be coming back to New Zealand as it’s a place where I immediately feel at home, probably because it has a strong similarity to Canada in many ways.

10. When you’re not being a musician what are your other passions – do you enjoy sport/recreation, or have other burning interests or hobbies?

Music is my passion and like other musicians I’m blessed to be able to live my passion. When I was young I skied cross-country and grew up skating as soon as I walked. I value family activities the most and also enjoy doing a bit of walking. I read mostly non-fiction, including books about meditation and I do enjoy a good mystery read.

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