John Terauds, Toronto Star (Entertainment) Toronto, Ont. – Jun 5, 2008
The clarinet’s song can run from mellow to shrill in the quick draw of a breath. That makes it an easy match with a wide range of music, from classical, to jazz and klezmer.
But that doesn’t make it easy to play.
Kornel Wolak assumed that he would one day be a musician, given that his father is a trumpet player and his mother a violist.
But no sooner had he started to take clarinet lessons in his native Poland when he was 11 than his teacher dismissed him, describing the youngster to his mother as “the anti-interpreter of the clarinet.”
Wolak describes his musical start with equal parts amusement and embarrassment. He is only 28 now, resettled in Toronto, and in demand as both a soloist and chamber player.
On Sunday afternoon, he joins Toronto Sinfonietta at the Royal Ontario Museum in a performance of the Clarinet Concerto by Karol Kurpinski (1785-1857), a Polish composer influenced by Haydn and Mozart.
Wolak has been a member of popular-minded Quartetto Gelato since last fall. They, in turn, bring their fun fare to Luminato at the Distillery next weekend.
The Polish expat was offered the job with Quartetto Gelato last year, after they heard him perform at the Niagara Chamber Music Festival. The Toronto Sinfonietta gig also came out of a live performance that impressed artistic director and conductor Matthew Jaskiewicz.
Control and a smooth, elegant expressivity are what make Wolak shine. His big, sleepy eyes belie a quantity of coiled-up energy that likely gives bounce to his outings with Quartetto Gelato.
It’s a good thing his mother didn’t take the first clarinet teacher’s verdict too seriously.
“We drove to Poznan, to see another master,” Wolak recounts.
“He listened to me and said I need some more lessons.”
He describes how he would go to regular junior high from morning to early afternoon, then go to music classes until the evening.
Asked what students who didn’t take music would do with their afternoons, Wolak laughs and replies, “They would make fun of us.”
Hard work earned him admission to a music academy in Poland, a performance degree from Indiana University and then, a scholarship toward an artist diploma from the Glenn Gould Professional School at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Wolak, who has settled in the High Park area, thinks the city’s ethnic diversity has made him feel comfortable.
“I want to live in a big city, but also one that is friendly,” he says.
The young talent recorded the Kurpinski concerto last year with the Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Lukasz Borowicz in Poland, after having performed the piece on tour.
The disc, which also contains five overtures to operas by Kurpinski, is available online and will be on sale at the ROM.
What Toronto Sinfonietta, with Kornel Wolak
Where Samuel Hall Currelly Gallery, ROM, 100 Queen’s Park
When Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets Included in museum admission. Info www.rom.on.ca
What Quartetto Gelato
Where Luminato at the Distillery, OLG Music Stage
When June 14 at 9 p.m.