Home » Stories » After 40 years, David Shifrin retires as director of Chamber Music Northwest / OREGON ARTSWATCH

Top 10 for Sep

After 40 years, David Shifrin retires as director of Chamber Music Northwest / OREGON ARTSWATCH

Bookmark and Share

A hearty encore for David Shifrin. After 40 years, the clarinetist supreme retires as director of Chamber Music Northwest. His colleagues give him a round of applause.

Even the most ardent classical-music enthusiasts may not know several details about celebrated clarinetist David Shifrin, who retired this summer after 40 years as artistic director of Portland's Chamber Music Northwest.

He uses synthetic - not cane - reeds.

His distant relative Lalo Schifrin (different spelling), who came to Hollywood from Argentina, persuaded David Shifrin's parents to buy him a clarinet when David was growing up in Queens, New York. Pianist Schifrin, now 88, composed the theme from Mission Impossible, and David Shifrin, 18 years his junior, decades later commissioned him to compose pieces for the clarinet that ended up on the Aleph Label in 2006, Shifrin Plays Schifrin. The compositions were played at CMNW.

Hearing Benny Goodman play Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and "lots and lots of swing" in the 1956 movie The Benny Goodman Story assured Shifrin that he had picked the right instrument. "I just fell in love with the clarinet," said Shifrin, who at 13 attended Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. Surrounded by serious young players, including violinist sisters Ida and Ani Kavafian (who perform often at Chamber Music Northwest), he convinced himself that to be a musician, "I'd have to work very, very hard, practice and practice, and be the best I could be." That summer, he thought he'd give the career a shot. He's never recalibrated his aim.

He has 14-year-old triplets, two of them striving musicians and another a computer wiz. He also has a 26-year-old son who is a football coach. A couple of weeks into retirement from CMNW, he said he plans to spend more time with the triplets, continue to play his MoBA cocobolo-wood clarinet for various concerts – some at CMNW – and keep teaching at Yale University School of Music.

If  these details have escaped you, you likely know that he is one of three wind players to win the Avery Fisher Prize, established in 1974 to recognize outstanding soloists, and that he was given an honorary membership in the International Clarinet Society in 2014 for lifetime achievement. As a young man he won the top prizes at the Munich and Geneva international competitions, which helped to launch his career.

His accolades are so manifold that there's not space to include them.

Besides, he's more interested in talking about the time during the 2019 festival when more than 100 clarinetists-pros, proteges and students from all over the world-played a raucous finale of Vivaldi, Edgar, Mahler and Sousa on Portland's Park Blocks to end a week of clarinet collaboration. "I'll never forget it," he said, playfully referring to the event as "Clarinet Geek Week."

Many CMNW concert-goers thought the clarinet festival, on his bucket list for years, celebrated Shifrin's retirement. Instead, this summer's virtual concerts, which sent him digging through archives, marked the end of his Chamber Music Northwest tenure. "It was quite a nostalgic journey if a great deal of work," he said, to organize the 2020 festival. "It was a shock to be in a position to replace something that we've done for almost 50 years (CMNW started in 1971 under Sergiu Luca), but everybody is doing that, adapting to the changes the virus has brought."

As it turned out,  the 2020 online festival pulled in 50,000 people - the most ever to hear its music - for 18 live streaming concerts, said festival Executive Director Peter Bilotta, "and David led the charge."

READ THE FULL OREGON ARTSWATCH ARTICLE