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“The Clarinet” by Anthony McGill and Anna Polonsky


Although a concert cannot be regarded as an everyday routine event that requires an appraisal, the critical review of an attended concert may be highly beneficial for a better understanding of music. To create an appropriate analysis of any performance, a listener will inevitably concentrate on the general atmosphere, the peculiarities of music, performers’ professionalism, and their interaction with an audience. Due to the current epidemiological situation connected with the spread of COVID-19, musicians all over the world are considerably limited in their opportunities to perform live concerts. However, the format of live streams allows artists to perform over the Internet from any place. The purpose of this paper is to review the concert of Anthony McGill organized as an online translation.

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The clarinet is a streaming concert of Anthony McGill with pianist Anna Polonsky that was held on June 26 from Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York (UChicago Presents, n.d.). In the present day, Anthony McGill may be regarded as one of the most prominent and recognizable figures in classical music. Being the first African American Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, he is distinguished for his solo work and collaborations with top orchestras and outstanding modern musicians (UChicago Presents, n.d.). The duration of the concert is approximately 40 minutes, and there are only two persons who participate in it –Anthony McGill, and his colleague, Anna Polonsky. Two musical instruments are used respectively – clarinet and piano.

The performance may be defined as an online chamber concert held in a small hall of Howland Cultural Center to create an atmosphere of comfort and relaxation. The musicians are dressed classically and casually at the same time, smile, and behave in a very friendly manner. During their performance, they look highly inspiring and absorbed by the music. In general, the purpose of the concert was not announced, however, Anthony McGill mentioned that he used his music “as a means of response to police violence and systemic injustice” (UChicago Presents, n.d., para. 2). As the concert is streamed, there is no audience in the hall except for the specialists involved in the creation of performance and online translation. However, Anthony McGill provides the connection with people by giving short comments about each composition and thanking them for watching.

In general, there are four compositions in the concert’s program:

  1. “Adoration” written by Florence Price in 1951. She was the first African American woman who fought racial discrimination and prejudice to become a recognized pianist, organist, and symphonic composer. This composition was initially intended for organ, however, Anthony McGill arranged it for clarinet (Chamber Music Society of Detroit, 2020).
  2. “Sonata for Clarinet & Piano,” the first composition of Leonard Bernstein, one of the most outstanding American pianists, composers, and conductors, was published in 1942 (Laird, 2018). Anthony McGill presents all three movements of this composition – “Grazioso,” “Andantino,” and “Vivace e leggiero” (Chamber Music Society of Detroit, 2020). In general, this composition implies the synthesis of the classical styles of the middle of the 20th century with Latin and jazz music.
  3. “Ad Anah” was written by James Lee III, an African American Michigan-native modern chamber music composer, in 2015 (Chamber Music Society of Detroit, 2020).
  4. “Sonata for Clarinet & Piano,” inspired by Argentinian folk music, was written and published by Carlos Guastavino in 1970. Anthony McGill and Anna Polonsky perform the composition’s three movements – “Allegro deciso,” “Andante,” and “Rondo, Allegro spiritoso.” (Chamber Music Society of Detroit, 2020).

Critical Review

In general, the concert may be defined as an excellent complete ensemble of clarinet and piano. These two instruments used by immeasurably talented musicians create consonance in polyphony and a perfectly harmonious melody. During the concert, Anthony McGill mentioned that he knows Anna for many years since school, and they, as good friends, frequently cooperate. He mentioned as well that some compositions were prepared by them for this concert considerably quickly. Nevertheless, from a personal perspective, their professionalism, warm attitude toward each other, and love for music substantially contributed to the organization of a well-prepared performance.

In addition, all pieces of the concert are arranged in a specific alternate order that helps the audience to take pleasure in music and stay concentrated at the same time. “Adoration” and “Ad Anah” are tranquil compositions, while both sonatas for clarinet and piano imply a mixture of lyrical and fast movements. In general, the concert is dedicated to the acknowledgment of symphonic compositions of the 20th century, starting from its middle to the present day. Moreover, as was previously mentioned, the performance is dedicated to the elimination of all forms of violence, discrimination, and racism with the help of music.

Personally, “Sonata for Clarinet & Piano,” written by Leonard Bernstein may be regarded as the most attractive piece of the concert as its changing rhythm and mode evoke the whole spectrum of emotions. It starts with a lyrical part and moves to a vivid movement with syncopations and a walking bass line. Later, the melody subsequently returns to tranquil mode with Latin-infused passages. Similar to other compositions presented in the concert, “Sonata for Clarinet & Piano” submerges listeners in the atmosphere of comfort and tranquility. Its changing tone colors and levels of sound recover reminiscences from different periods of life. It is even possible to say the harmonious phonation created by clarinet and piano moves the audience to a fairytale.

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It is substantially interesting to compare this Livestream concert of Anthony McGill with his other performance, for instance, Mozart Clarinet Concerto, to evaluate the instrument’s speech with and without the orchestra’s accompaniment. The chamber concert in Howland Cultural Center may be distinguished by the perfect harmony of clarinet and piano that complement each other, creating an absolute harmony. In turn, clarinet and orchestra in Mozart Clarinet Concerto may be regarded as equal parts that alternatively provide each other an opportunity for solo performance within a composition.


Despite all challenges related to the pandemic, due to technological progress, artists from all countries across the globe have an opportunity to perform and please their audience as before. The clarinet is a wonderful streaming concert of two outstanding and talented musicians, Anthony McGill and Anna Polonsky. Their harmonious ensemble of clarinet and piano evokes the whole spectrum of emotions, helps to dream, and creates a highly relaxing and comfortable atmosphere. In addition, despite the inability of personal interaction with the audience, performers help listeners to create a feeling of presence. At the same time, the online translation and the format of a chamber concert have substantial advantages. It is highly beneficial to concentrate on music and the inner sensation evoked by it in a comfortable atmosphere.


Chamber Music Society of Detroit. (2020). Anthony McGill LIVE [Video]. Web.

Laird, P. R. (2018). Leonard Bernstein. Reaktion Books.

UChicago Presents. (n.d.). Concert stream: Anthony McGill, clarinet. Web.

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