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Famed pianist's son finds place playing clarinet

Rick Rogers Published: November 5, 2000

Dimitri Ashkenazy belongs to a collective of musicians that includes the likes of Igor Kipnis, Maxim Shostakovich, Dimitry Sitkovetsky and Navah Perlman.

As children growing up in the shadow of musically famous parents (Alexander Kipnis, Dimitri Shostakovich, Bella Davidovich and Itzhak Perlman, respectively), these performers frequently came into contact with some of the legends of the music world.

For Ashkenazy, who makes his Oklahoma City Philharmonic debut this week, encountering such luminaries as Lynn Harrell, Andre Previn, Lorin Maazel and Eugene Ormandy was a common occurrence.

With such constant exposure to music, it was only natural that the young Ashkenazy would one day take up an instrument. Like his brother Vovka and his father Vladimir, Dimitri began his studies on piano. He switched to the clarinet at age 10.

Ashkenazy was born in New York in 1969. He is a citizen of Iceland (his mother is Icelandic), but has lived in Switzerland since 1978. He completed his studies with distinction in 1993 at the Lucerne Conservatory and has concertized professionally since 1991.

"Overall, I think, of the wind instruments, clarinetists have perhaps the easiest time of it," said Ashkenazy, whose career as a solo clarinetist is largely European based.

"Flutists have to worry about having enough air, and oboists have to worry about having too much air. And then they and the bassoonists have trouble with the double reeds."

For his Oklahoma City Philharmonic debut, Ashkenazy will perform one of the instrument's best-known works, the "Clarinet Concerto" by Aaron Copland. Written in 1948, the 17-minute concerto was commissioned by Benny Goodman.

Ashkenazy says he had little exposure to American music growing up in Switzerland, aside from George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story." Interestingly, both works incorporate elements of symphonic music and jazz.

So, too, does Copland's "Clarinet Concerto." Its slow, languorous first movement is connected to a restless, jazzy finale by a solo cadenza. Not surprisingly, it's a work that lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

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