Clarinetist Pamela Coats is the featured artist of WDAV’s upcoming virtual Small Batch concert on Friday, May 15th at 5 p.m. She has been a prize-winner in competitions in Germany, Italy, and the USA and is a founding member of the International Chamber Artists. A graduate of UNC-Greensboro, Pamela currently calls Cologne, Germany home. Orchesterverein Zürich described her as “an impressive personality and a brilliant clarinetist,” and we couldn’t agree more.
Let’s start with the story behind how you chose the clarinet.
“I started playing the clarinet in the 5th grade – my Dad was stationed in Norfolk, and I went to a school that had just started a music program with the aim of putting on a musical at the end of the year. I had either the choice of playing an instrument or singing in the chorus (I think that I made the better choice). While my dad was stationed at Ft. Bragg, I went to school in Cumberland County (Westover Senior High) at the time where the wind ensemble competitiveness was really high. I wanted to be in the mix and auditioned to be in All-County Band and Orchestra.”
Can you pinpoint the moment you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?
“I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician when I started studying at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go, but I was able to take many different courses from composition to woodwind instrument repair. I also completed an arts administration internship with the Greensboro Philharmonic. I really wanted to understand how an orchestra (and performing) worked from the inside out. After obtaining these different perspectives, I was able to confidently make the decision to become a professional musician.”
Your career started in North Carolina and then Chicago. Now you’re based in Germany. What prompted your move?
“During my UNCG time, I researched a lot about the history of the clarinet and found out that it was invented in Germany. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to return to Germany (we were also stationed in Germany before returning to Ft. Bragg), at least to study. I wanted to be surrounded by the history of the music that I was studying. I had the extreme luck to be able to attend the conservatory in Cologne and obtain a performance degree there.”
What are some of the differences between performing in the U.S. versus Europe?
“In Europe, it seems like there is a concert hall in almost every city or church that has its own concert series – In Germany, the cities either partially or completely fund these institutions. In the US, it’s necessary to have community involvement (people and businesses in the area) if you start your own ensemble or concert series. The U.S. musicians are willing to dream and dream big – to start a concert series or an ensemble and give it time to develop as well as be more involved. Also, in Europe, chamber groups such as woodwind quintets or string quartets are founded when the students are in high school (15-16 years of age). Then they attend the conservatory together and may already be performing professionally while studying.”
Would you say the challenges are the same or different for professional musicians in Europe?
“I think that the basic challenge of developing an interesting program and being able to live from your art is the same. The difference (that I see) is that European musicians expect to live from their music, and we study music to be a well-rounded person, not necessarily to make a living as a performer.”
Is there classical music on the radio where you live? How does it compare to classical radio in the U.S.?
“Yes, there are definitely classical music radio stations here in Germany. Some classical music stations specialize in early music or modern music. Every main radio station has an orchestra that is connected to it. NDR (North German Radio) has the NDR Philharmonic in Hamburg and Hannover/WDR (West German Radio) has the WDR Radio Symphony, etc.”
Tell us about your most memorable concert experience.
“My soprano, clarinet, and piano trio was selected to participate in the Yehudi Menuhin program ‘Live Music Now’ in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, and we performed in hospitals, senior centers, and homes for the disabled as well as prisons. All the performances were moving, but when we performed in hospitals – knowing that some of the patients would not be able to go home – we seemed to always perform our best for them.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed down concert halls and brought live, in-person performance to a standstill. Is it the same where you are?
“It is definitely the same, which makes every musician super sad. The Berlin Philharmonic gave a chamber concert of Mahler’s 4th Symphony on April 30th, and the Düsseldorf Symphonic Orchestra also gave a chamber concert on May 1st to an empty concert hall. Both concerts gave me and my colleagues hope that we will be back to performing, in some form or fashion, in the fall.”
In what ways, if any, do you think the pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on your profession?
“I think that the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting effect on classical music. Opera and orchestras might have to postpone or perform in smaller formations until there is a vaccine. Small ensembles and smaller programs will have a chance to shine. My hope is that chamber music compositions that are not normally performed (from female composers and/or minority composers) get a chance to be heard in this time and become a part of the standard repertoire.”
Time to play favorites. Tell us your favorites from each category. Ready. Set. Go.
Favorite era of music: Late Romantic to Early Modern (1830-1930), which corresponds to the artistic period of art nouveau through the art deco period.
Favorite composer: Sergei Prokofiev (Violin Concerto No. 2) and Johannes Brahms (almost everything – and he’s my neighbor! I live down the street from his birthplace).
Favorite piece to listen to: So many! Hailstork’s An American Port of Call, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 or 4, the von Herzogenberg Piano Quintet, Ethel Symthe symphonies, Schulhoff’s Divertissement, Martinu’s Nonet…
Favorite piece to perform: Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet, Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpértuels for Nonet
Favorite place to perform: The place that I’m performing at the time 🙂