The Central Coast Philharmonia

Contrabass Clarinets

Compared to many instruments featured on the program, contrabass clarinets can be seen as some of the more common members of the ensemble. Contrabass Clarinets are more common in wind ensembles and concert bands, but they have seen some scorings in orchestras as well by various composers and they are rather common in motion picture scorings. Genesis Concert will feature the BBb Contrabass Clarinet and the Eb Contralto Clarinet. The Eb Contralto clarinet is the member of the clarinet family between the bass clarinet and the contrabass. It sees much scoring in wind ensemble repitore and some in clarinet choir music, but never really has much feature, let alone extended solos. Composer Adam Gilberti is the only one who has requested specifically for the Eb contralto clarinet in an orchestral setting. It is a deep and powerful wooden clarinet which extends the range of the bass downward while blending very well with all instruments and supporting the woodwind sections. The BBb contrabass clarinet is traditionally made of metal in contrast and can often descend to the lowest Bb on the piano, though that is not particularly its stronger range. The timbre is considerably brassier than that of the more veiled contralto clarinet but even so, the contrabass is very dark and carries a considerable amount of power and inescapable presence. It is capable of clear pianissimos in the extreme low register, a rare quality for a woodwind, and features a uniquely colourless upper register. Both instruments are extremely versatile and agile. The Genesis Concert will heavily feature the contrabass clarinet and the Violin Concerto will feature rare back to back solos for the contralto and contrabass clarinets.

Some technical info:
The contralto clarinet has the standard clarinet range and is written in treble clef, sounding a major 6th plus an octave down. This puts its bottom note at G an octave below the G at the bottom of the bass clef staff. The contrabass sounds a full octave lower than bass clarinet and often has extended range down to low written C (the Bb at the bottom of the piano). Donald Martino has a triple concerto for three clarinets involving the contrabass clarinet and this piece shows off some of the virtuoso techniques the instrument could be capable of. Also John Corigliano Symphony No. 1 has a solo contrabass clarinet passage, Adam Gilberti's Forces of Nature also contains one, and the film soundtrack to Interview With A Vampire features plenty of soloistic lines for the contrabass clarinet. More information on contrabass clarinets can be found at

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