For many professional musicians, the instrument they play today is all they’ve ever known. However, for Sharon Kam, acclaimed Israeli clarinetist and this week’s guest soloist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), her path to the instrument that made her famous was less direct than one might expect. Before picking up the clarinet at age 12, Kam first spent a decade tinkering with the violin, the piano, and then the recorder.
“I really needed to look around before I found my voice, but when I did, it was mine, so it didn’t take much effort from me then to make a sound out of [the clarinet],” says Kam.
Kam grew up surrounded by orchestral musicians, as her mother was a violist with the Israel Philharmonic. It was here that she first heard the instrument that she would come to master.
“I was listening to lots of the rehearsal and was fascinated by that [clarinet] sound. And then I said, at 12, ‘Mom, I love the recorder but I know nobody’s taking it seriously, so I want to start the clarinet.’”
Despite this childhood, Kam was never interested in pursuing an orchestral position. She was either going to curate a successful career as a soloist, or she was going to go back to school to study physics, her other passion (her father is a biophysicist).
“The question is always, ‘What do you expect from a career? What do you want? What are your goals?’” says Kam.
While she holds a deep admiration for orchestral musicians, Kam understands her place in the world of music.
“I’m a really individual type of person and really need to make musical decisions on my terms,” she explains. “[Orchestral life isn’t suitable when] you’re sort of a control freak like I am, and I needed everything to be in place all the time, and I thought I probably would either go crazy in an orchestra, make my colleagues go crazy, or be fired!”
Over the past three decades, Kam has developed a prolific solo career worldwide, with Europe as her home base. However, thanks to the Sir Jack Lyons Charitable Trust and the Israel Connection, Calgary marks her only North American appearance this Season. She will be performing two works alongside the CPO on June 1st and 2nd as part of their The Firebird & Cantus Arcticus concert, starting with the well-known Mozart Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra.
“The Mozart Clarinet Concerto is the most famous piece for the clarinet and one of the most well-known pieces of Mozart altogether, and I think maybe because of this piece, the clarinet is somewhat seen as a solo instrument,” she says. “I will be performing this piece on a basset clarinet, which is… a little bit larger, a bit longer, and goes deeper than the regular clarinet.”
She will then perform Debussy’s Première rhapsodie for Clarinet and Orchestra, a piece more commonly accompanied by piano.
“It’s not quite played as often with orchestra, because it’s a quite difficult piece to balance. The orchestra’s quite large, and it should be very soft all the time…soft dynamics [are] very difficult to achieve with a huge orchestra, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how soft Calgary can play!”