The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 1, 2013

Classical performers a musical dream team

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Like many pianists, Jon Nakamatsu is at the mercy of the venue where he performs. Other classical musicians get to carry their own instruments -- often historical ones hundreds of years old.

Not Nakamatsu. He has to play whatever instrument is in front of him, no matter its state or tune.

"It's one of the curses and blessings of getting to meet a new piano every week," he said. "But even the worst piano allows you to do something different, and that can sometimes be inspiring."

Nakamatsu will play two different pianos in Joplin next week. With clarinetist Jon Manasse, the Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo will perform as part of Pro Musica Joplin's chamber music season. The duo will perform an open concert at Ozark Christian College and a limited engagement house concert at a Joplin residence.

The two will perform a varied program that features the solemn, beautiful tones of Brahms and a sassy series of rags by John Novacek.

The program begins with Brahms Sonata in E-flat Major, the piece that the two Jons played at their first meeting. Pursuing careers and developing impressive resumes as soloists, they shared a common manager who suggested the two work together. He thought the clarinetist and pianist would make a perfect "dream team."

"I thought, 'Do I really want to do that?' I didn't like the idea much," Nakamatsu said. "But then I heard his CDs, and it was unlike anything I had heard before."

They played together for the first time in a practice room at his son's school, where they played the first movement of the Brahms piece. Nakamatsu said they had to stop, because the two were shaken by how well they anticipated each other's playing.

"It was unlike anything we'd ever done before," Nakamatsu said. "Our instincts were so similar, and our ability to see through each other was innate. In some ways our musical brains operate on the same level." They debuted with a highly acclaimed performance in Boston in 2004 and have played across the country. The duo's two albums have earned good reviews from the New York Times.

The program for its Joplin performance also features works by Carl Maria von Weber, Lowell Liebermeann and Francis Poulenc -- a mix of classic and modern composers. One of the benefits for a clarinet/piano duo, Nakamatsu said, is that composers are still composing new music. "The nice thing is that people still write for the two instruments," Nakamatsu said. "They complement each other very nicely."

The duo commissions music, as well. Liebermann's "Elegy" was composed in 2012 in memory of Manasse's father, and the Novacek rags, "Four Rags for Two Jons," take advantage of the players' appreciation for intricate, varied styles.

Nakamatsu is highly complimentary of Manasse's playing, and said that he is capable of capturing a wide swath of sounds.

"What's interesting is what he does with the Brahms, where the sound is so pure and round," Nakamatsu said. "He totally changes character with the Poulenc and rags. And the Weber is absolute fireworks. You won't believe what he can do."

Want to go?

The Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo will perform two shows next week in Joplin:

¥ At 7 p.m. Thursday at Ozark Christian College, located at 1111 N. Main St. The performance is open to the public.

¥ At 6:30 p.m. March 8 at a Joplin residence. The performance includes a cocktail buffet and a champagne dessert. Tickets: $85, $60 of which is tax-deductible. Seating is limited. Details: 417-625-1822.