Gregory Oakes
Oakes is the rare player who has both excellent classical training and a mastery of the otherworldly procedures demanded by non-traditional repertoire. outstanding performance...
The word “epic” gets tossed around too often these days, but it fits here, especially with the refined central solo from clarinetist Gregory Oakes...
...jazzy flourishes from newcomer Gregory Oakes.
Gregory Oakes obviously has a formidable technical armamentarium at his command, and the laudable curiosity to extend his repertory...and ours as well.
...particularly outstanding musician...
If clarinet = revolver...then Gregory Oakes = Billy the Kid
Utterly sensational!
...beautiful solos from principal clarinetist Gregory Oakes...

New Dialects | Centaur CRC 3038
“Gregory Oakes obviously has a formidable technical armamentarium at his command, and the laudable curiosity to extend his repertory… and ours as well.”
-Fanfare Magazine
Read More>>
No music is untouchable for Greg Oakes

Photo: Milly Orellana

One professor in the department of music is determined to show students there’s more to orchestral music than works from “old, dead, European men.”

Gregory Oakes is an assistant professor of clarinet at Iowa State and the principal clarinet for the Des Moines Symphony. He focuses his attention on music written by living composers rather than what most people consider classical music. Read More>>

Dan Atwood, Iowa State Daily

American Record Guide

Iowa State University professor and contemporary music specialist Gregory Oakes presents a recital of mostly unaccompanied clarinet works, most or which call on extended techniques and world music. The program consists of Southern Illinois University faculty member and clarinetist-composer Eric Mandat’s Folks Songs (1986); University of California at Berkeley professor Ken Ueno’s I screamed at the sea until nodes swelled up, then my voice became the resonant noise of the sea (2009) for amplified clarinet; Puerto-Rican born post-modernist Roberto Sierra’s Cinco Bocetos (1984); Chinese composer Chen Yi’s Monologue (1993); Amsterdam-based American flutist Ned McGowan’s Ios Duo (2000) for flute and clarinet, where McGowan serves as a guest performer; the 20th Century Indian violinist and Indo-Jazz fusion composer John Mayer’s Raga Music (1957); and Swiss cellist-composer Alfred Felder’s Apache Clown Dance (1998).

Some avant-garde performers delve into their genre to downplay a lack of fundamentals, but Oakes is the rare player who has both excellent classical training and a mastery of the otherworldly procedures demanded by non-traditional repertoire. He boasts a clear sounds, clean fingers, wide dynamic range, and a deep understanding of the simple yet expressive folk idioms behind the notes. He meets all the technical and artistic challenges of more traditional repertoire like the Sierra, where the composer leaves no room to hide, and easily transcends the obstacles laid out in the scores by Mandat, Ueno, McGowan, Yi, and Felder, employing extreme volume, pitch bending, flutter-tonguing, key-slapping, foot-stomping, circular breathing, and eye-popping multiphonics with seemingly little effort. His low register in the Mayer is more reedy than in the rest of the program, but that may be an attempt to give a more “earthy” sound to the piece. If so, it works.

Fanfare Magazine

This disc is likely to find a place only in clarinetist’s shelves, given its nearly exclusive instrumentation of solo clarinet. This would be a pity, since there is much to enjoy for anyone interested in the wanderings of contemporary music in the last couple of decades, and indeed for those whose sole criteria is quality music realized at a high level. Besides its intrinsic musical value, I could scarcely imagine a better primer on clarinet possibilities for the budding composer.

If Eric Mandat’s Folk Songs from 1986 hasn’t become a mainstay in contemporary music, there is no justice in the music world. Just the opening bars brought back fond memories, as I recalled hearing the composer play it a number of times many years ago, and his disc of solo clarinet music from two decades ago remains a favorite in the genre. Mandat was not the first to explore extended clarinet techniques and bring non-Western influences to his instrument, but few (if any) have synthesized these strains in such a controlled and compelling way. I was doubtful that anyone other than the composer could do justice to these very personal works, but Gregory Oakes has made them his own, and deserves credit for bringing them to a wider audience.

Like the Mandat work, Ken Ueno’s solo work is keen to explore many non-traditional sounds, including “difference tones”, humming, multiphonics, and key clicks. I have little patience for those that maintain that an instrument should not attempt anything other than what its inventors intended, and I would hope any open-minded listener would give Ueno’s fascinating piece a try. One mission of these sonic explorations is to give the illusion of multiple voices, thereby increasing the possibilities of unaccompanied “single line” instruments like the clarinet.

The five movements of Roberto Sierra’s Cinco Bocetos are less concerned with timbral explorations than simple embodiments of the musical flavors of Puerto Rico. Still, he senses the potential pitfalls of a solo wind instrument, and uses well-crafted changes of register to give the illusion of multiple voices (like Bach’s solo works for single line instruments such as the violin, cello, and flute). Chen Yi’s haunting Monologue packs a multiplicity of voluminous ideas into a small package. It might seem unlikely that she could distill her impressions of a true story by writer Lu Xun into a mere four minutes, but she does so with consummate skill and idiomatic use of the instrument.

Flutist and composer Ned McGowan joins Oakes for the former’s Ios Duo, which among other things explores bends of pitches within close intervals between the pair, as well as gentle cross-rhythms and melodies suffused with microtonal inflections. John Mayer’s Raga Music, with its brief movements and Eastern references could be viewed as a precursor to Mandat’s Folk Songs, minus the latter’s extended techniques. The barn-burning finale is Arthur Felder’s Apache Clown Dance, a picturesque, virtuosic, and thoroughly engrossing depiction of a dance ritual.

Splendid playing throughout, and the recorded sound is close, clear, and a bit on the dry side.
Michael Cameron

* * *

This is a good issue for avant-garde clarinet recitals. Elsewhere in these pages I review a disc called Necessity by Argentinean composer-performer Jorge Variego, and now here’s one by an American (I think) player with a long curriculum vitae, including a current faculty position at Iowa State University, where most of this CD was recorded.

As with Variego’s disc, New Dialects seems destined to appeal primarily to those who eat, sleep, and live the clarinet. While Necessity frequently combined the clarinet with other instruments or electronics, New Dialects is a solo gig, save for the 12-minute Ios Duo, in which Oakes is joined by the composer. Extended playing techniques are integral to the music on both discs, and on New Dialects you will hear textbook examples of multiphonics, microtonal playing, key noises, singing into the instrument, blowing into it in unusual ways, and the like. Sometimes these techniques seem to have been incorporated into the music merely for the sake of making things harder or more intriguing for musicians and audiences alike. At other times, such as in Eric P. Mandat’s Folk Songs, their impact more than justifies their presence.

Ken Ueno’s work should win an award for the length of its title, which also pretty much describes what it sounds like. (The “nodes” in question are those that sometimes grow on vocal cords as a result of vocal strain.) Do you remember Yoko Ono’s vocal feats on the Live Peace in Toronto, 1969 album? (All right, I am dating myself.) If you had the fortitude to enjoy that, you’ll probably respond as positively to Ueno’s work. About Ios Duo, McGowan writes, “The entire piece is microtonal, incorporating glissandos within various quarter-tone systems.” Again, as an exercise in de natura sonoris, it will have its admirers, but parts of it will be tough sledding for conservative listeners.

Monologue can be heard as a short story or essay without words. Subtitled “Impressions on The True Story of Ah Q,” it invites the listener (should he or she so wish) to reflect on “ignorance and civilization, lowliness and pride.” I believe boceto means “sketch” in Spanish, and Roberto Sierra’s set of five of them, only one more than two minutes long, evokes his Puerto Rican homeland. These terse but colorful vignettes in a tonal style make their point and step aside. The components of John Mayer’s Raga Music take a similar approach to Indian classical music, although they lack that genre’s leisurely progress: we are given nine of them in a little more than ten minutes. Alfred Felder’s Apache Clown Dance is inspired by a sacred Native American tradition in which entertainment, purification, and healing are combined. I don’t know if any of the material is authentic, but the mental picture Felder’s work creates is vivid enough.

The works chosen for this CD demonstrate the continued synergy between “world music” and classical music. Furthermore, they demonstrate that the world’s musical traditions are anything but fragile, and can endure and even respond positively to manipulation via cutting-edge classical techniques. Gregory Oakes obviously has a formidable technical armamentarium at his command, and the laudable curiosity to extend his repertory‚Ķ and ours as well. As with Variego’s Necessity CD, New Dialects is not for everyone (although I think it is the friendlier disc of the two), but I’m grateful it exists.
Raymond Tuttle


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Gregory Oakes is one of the most exciting and energetic clarinetists of his generation. From his Carnegie Hall debut with members of Ensemble Intercontemporain and Pierre Boulez to his performances as a member of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Oakes has been praised by critics for his “outstanding performance” (New York Times) and “jazzy flourishes”(Denver Post). American Record Guide says “Oakes is the rare player who has both excellent classical training and a mastery of the otherworldly procedures demanded by non-traditional repertoire,” and Fanfare Magazine lauds the “formidable technical armamentarium at his command.” He is a founding member of the new music and creative arts ensemble Non Sequitur, which was heralded by New Music Connoisseur as “utterly sensational.” In a performance with Non Sequitur, the Aspen Daily News highlighted him as a “particularly outstanding musician.” Non Sequitur has been in residence at Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, and the Aspen Music Festival.

A flexible and versatile musician, Mr. Oakes has performed with notable musicians in prestigious venues around the world. He has been a concerto soloist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Denver Brass, performed with Grammy® Award-winner Terence Blanchard at the Telluride Jazz Festival, and appeared at the Chicago Arts Club. His recordings have been released on Bridge, CRI, Karnatic Lab Records, and Naxos and broadcast on National Public Radio. His recent solo CD, New Dialects, appears on the Centaur Records label.

As a soloist, Mr. Oakes has won awards or received commendations in the International Clarinet Competition, National Young Artists’ Competition, Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, Coleman Chamber Music Competition, and the Kingsville International Young Artists Competition. He has given solo performances at multiple International Clarinet Association ClarinetFests, the University of Oklahoma Clarinet Symposium, the International Computer Music Conference, the Crested Butte Chamber Music Festival, Boulder’s Modern Music Festival (M2F), Colorado Music Festival’s Young Artist Series, and the Pendulum New Music Series. An international artist, Mr. Oakes has performed frequently in the Netherlands at Amsterdam’s venerable new music hall De IJsbreker, the Gaudeamus Competition, Concerten Tot en Met, the Karnatic Lab concert series, De Badcuyp, STEIM, and Utrecht’s Theatre Kikker. He has been a featured soloist at the prestigious MaerzMusik festival in Berlin. He has also toured Brazil—performing in Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, and Campinas—and conducted masterclasses at notable Brazilian universities UnB, UNIRIO, and UNICAMP. He was in residence as a guest artist at the MUPA Festival of Contemporary Music in Bangsaen, Thailand. In the summer, Mr. Oakes is on the faculty of The Cortona Sessions festival for new music in Tuscany, Italy.

Mr. Oakes has been a member of several orchestras including the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Ballet, Central City Opera, Colorado Music Festival, and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He is currently the principal clarinet of the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra. As a chamber musician, Mr. Oakes has performed as a member of the woodwind quintet Category 5 and the award-winning Ensemble Syzygy clarinet quartet.

Mr. Oakes holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, a master’s degree from DePaul University, and a doctorate from the University of Colorado. His teachers include Bil Jackson, Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, and John Bruce Yeh. He has been honored as a Tanglewood Music Festival Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar Finalist, and an Aspen Music Festival Fellow. Mr. Oakes has presented masterclasses at such institutions as Michigan State University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of California Berkeley, Ithaca College, the Amsterdam Conservatory, and the Aspen Music Festival. He has previously taught at the University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg, MS) and Bemidji State University (Bemidji, MN). Mr. Oakes is on the faculty of Iowa State University (Ames, IA).

Gregory Oakes is a Buffet Group USA and a Vandoren Performing Artist.

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