By Michelle Tavenner, program director at the McConnell Arts Center
Antoine T. Clark, the founding artistic and music director of the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra (MACCO), now in its ninth season, is known for compelling musical interpretations, energy on the stage and dedication to fostering inspiration and development of the next generation of musicians. Clark will present the second concert of his 2021-2022 Masterworks Series: Building on Inspiration, Forged in the Heavens, at the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 3 p.m.
Michelle: When did you first recognize your affinity for the arts and music in particular?
Antoine: I first recognized my love of music when I was very young because my father was a musician versed in many musical styles, including gospel, rock and blues. However, I discovered my passion for classical music when I was in the sixth grade. Around that time, I watched an orchestral performance on PBS of Carl Nielsen’s 5th Symphony. It was the first time I felt that music created a landscape in my mind and expanded my imagination.
Michelle: What is your creative process for designing an orchestral series?
Antoine: Many things can inspire my programming for an orchestral series. It could be a particular composer, artist, mood, idea or concept. I enjoy interdisciplinary collaborations that pair music with other artistic disciplines, including dance, sculpture, poetry and digital video projection.
Michelle: How do you communicate your ideas about a work to the musicians you’re conducting?
Antoine: I communicate my ideas to musicians through gestures from my eyes, face, hands and arms. However, this is exclusively the case in performance. I rely on the same techniques during rehearsals, but I can also express my ideas verbally to the musicians.
Michelle: What musical work has sparked the most inspiration for you as a clarinetist? Is there a different work that has inspired you as a conductor?
Antoine: Many pieces written for the clarinet inspire me, but if I had to pick one, it would be Johannes Brahms’ Quintet for Clarinet and Strings.
Last year, I had the privilege of conducting the world premiere of breathe/burn: an elegy, a work for cello and orchestra written by Joel Thompson. Joel dedicated the work to the memory of Breonna Taylor. The music is powerful and poignant, and it connected me to the struggle for social justice on a deeper level.
Michelle: Which composers do you find you resonate with the most and why?
Antoine: While I enjoy the music of composers from different musical periods, I connect to the composers of the Romantic and post-Romantic eras. These composers resonate with me the most because of the high emotional impact their music can deliver. I love the music of Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, Carl Nielsen and Dimitri Shostakovich, to name a few.
Michelle: Which is more exhilarating for you – the moment you raise the baton at the start of a piece or the moment you lower the baton at the end of a piece? Why?
Antoine: It is generally more exhilarating for me when I lower the baton at the end of a piece. The exhilaration comes from having made music with my colleagues or students, and hopefully, our music-making has had an emotional and spiritual impact on the audience.
Michelle: What’s the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
Antoine: The best thing about the Columbus art scene is the diversity of artistic expression in our community. I am always amazed that we have so much eclectic art produced on small and large scales by individuals and organizations.