Daniel Yiau first started playing the Clarinet at the age of 14 in secondary school band after a switch from the Tuba. Upon graduation, Yiau had the opportunity to pursue music at NAFA under the tutelage of Jean Johnson (United Kingdom), Natalia Chtchoukina (Russia) and Tang Xiao Ping (Singapore Symphony Orchestra).

Yiau is currently in the Singapore Armed Forces Central Band, serving as a military musician and as the assistant sectional leader. Under the tutelage of Liu Yoko (Singapore Symphony Orchestra), Yiau was conferred the LTCL Diploma in Clarinet in 2010.

Yiau has performed in many bands and orchestras such as the The Philharmonic Winds (Singapore), The Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) and the Maris Alumni Wind Ensemble (MAWE), as well as in wind and clarinet ensembles such as Chamber Sounds and The Kreutzer Ensemble. He has also participated in masterclasses by clarinetists Nicolas Baldeyrou (orchestre de Radio France), MGySgt Lisa Kadala (U.S Marine Band) and Tadayoshi Takaeda (Kunitachi College of Music, Elisabeth University of Music).

Yiau’s musical interest took a turn towards composition with influences from Bach, Bartók, Mahler, Ravel, Stravinsky, Piazzolla, Pärt and Whitacre. His works have been premiered in Singapore and Europe; such as Anubis – Guardian God of Death (2 pianos, 6 hands) by the WXY Trio and Samsui – Short Scenes (for wind ensemble) by Audioimage and The Republic Polytechnic Wind Symphony. His commissions for 2010 include a Solo Piano work, a Concert Fanfare for mixed Brass Ensemble and in 2011, 2 Wind Ensemble pieces.

Yiau will be embarking on his Compositional Studies at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in September 2011.

(This interview was conducted in December 2010)

Why the switch from Tuba to Clarinet? Was it a difficult decision?

Being in an average-leveled secondary school marching band, we played mostly educational music, which meant that the parts written for the Tuba were not as exciting or technically demanding as compared to the other instrumental groups. Looking for alternative sources of stimulus and not wanting to play another Brass instrument, I tried several woodwind instruments and even percussion (psychomotor problem!). I eventually chose the Clarinet because of its amazing Timbre and enormous Versatility. I bought a Yamaha C100 plastic clarinet, dabbled around with fingering charts and whatever ‘simple’ scores I could get for starters.

Fortunately, I found a community band (Audioimage, under the Direction of Adrian Tan) that was willing to accept me without any prior knowledge of clarinet playing, there, I was given an opportunity to learn and hone the skills needed as a clarinetist, from there, I bought my first Buffet Crampon RC Bb Clarinet.

It was certainly not a difficult decision! Only thing was I had to juggle playing the Tuba during school, and the Clarinet on weekends. I guessed I managed and coped with the different embouchures required and benefitted from the advantages gleaned from playing each instrument (For example, I was able to sustain longer notes on the clarinet as compared to my peers due to the frequent ‘long notes’ in the Tuba parts. Similarly, I was able to be more nimble on the Tuba due to the running passages in many Clarinet parts).

What is your current equipment?

  • Bb Clarinet: Yamaha Idéal YCL 950 (Japan Model, out of production)
  • A   Clarinet: Yamaha Idéal YCL 940 (Japan Model, out of production)
  • Vandoren M30 Mouthpiece
  • Clark W Fobes 56.5MM Barrel
  • GF System III White Ligature & Woodstone Kodama I Ligature
  • Rico Grand Concert Select Thick Blank Reed strength 3

What’s your least favorite part about being a clarinetist?

Many Ensembles are playing Orchestral transcriptions of late, as clarinetists, we always have to play the String parts and also the original wind parts which can be quite annoying and physically demanding (as we’re constantly playing throughout!).

Another thing I don’t really like is how people judge the auxiliary clarinetists (Eb, Alto, Bass, Contras) and think that they aren’t as important or as capable as those playing Bb, even more important are the auxiliary clarinets! As they are usually one per part, there is a lot of (unnecessary) pressure entrusted upon them when there are exposed parts!

Side Note: Auxiliary clarinetists reading this, you should feel happy and proud to be chosen to play these individual parts!

What are some of the teachers and musicians that influenced your playing or that you look up to?

I am thankful to my past teachers: Jean Johnson, Natalia Chtchoukina and Tang Xiao Ping for teaching me the rudiments and technicalities of playing the Clarinet. My current teacher Ms Yoko Liu, for being most instrumental in my growth and shaping me to the clarinetist I am today.

My musician peers (a list too long to name), the significant clarinetists that really pushed and aided me throughout these years; Desmond Chow, Jenny Ting, Liang Jia Yi and Chen Weiling. Thank you so much!
The people I look up to are Dr. Zechariah Goh, Dr. Kelly Tang, Ms. Jennifer Tham and Maestro Douglas Bostock; they have been super-inspiring, shaping my attitude towards music, on professionalism in the music scene and showing me that it takes more than just sheer talent to be good at music-making!

What’s your practice routine?

Religiously, I will warm up by going through most of the Clarinet’s range [chromatically, start on open G to lowest E and up to Top G returning to open G, both Slurred and Tongued] to check firstly the Reed (if its ‘playable’ for the day, if not, change and do exercise again) and also whether its going to be a good day for playing/practicing or not and adjust accordingly.

Following are scales (in different variations of slurs and tonguing), short etudes or pieces (identifying problem spots, difficult passages and working on them) that I have for lessons, upcoming performances or concerts.

Do you have any recommendations for clarinet literature – method books and scores?

  • Cyrille Rose – 32 Etudes is a must!
  • Any trustworthy scale book (ie: Carl Baermann, Rolf Eichler).
  • The standard repertoire:  Brahms Sonatas, Mozart Concerto, Weber Concertino, Concertos, Krommer Concertos, Poulenc Sonata, Finzi Bagatelles, Stravinsky Three Pieces.

Disclaimer: NOT recommended to young clarinetists, as bad habits might be cultivated if unguided.

What would be your dream solo for clarinet?

It is always a dream for every clarinetist to perform Mozart’s ever-famous Clarinet Concerto K. 622 on the Bassett Clarinet accompanied by an orchestra. But I would probably not be able to pull it off! But a dream is a dream!

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?

Contrary to what many might believe, I don’t solely listen to just classical music! I listen to many different genres as well, from Classical to Indie, J-Pop, Pop, Rock, Soundtrack and Contemporary music, etc.
If I had to choose, it would be Sacrificum – Cecilia Bartoli with the Il Giardino Armonico conducted by Giovanni Antonini.

Would you say the numerous opportunities to perform have allowed you to become a better player over the years?

Definitely! Not only do I grow from the successful performances, the disappointments, performance anxiety and screw-ups in competitions and concerts made me learn to be a better performer, more so than the good performances.

Tell us why did your musical interest turn towards composition?

The process of creating my own music was definitely a huge draw. Also, when we read through pieces, we often have the “hmm… why did he/she do this? Maybe it could have been done some other way?” or “… that passage we played had such an amazing colour and texture written! What did he/she do?” and wanting to perform new pieces (to call my own!), I thought to myself why not? and tried writing my own. It has certainly been a gratifying experience thus far!

And frankly speaking, I don’t think I’m quite cut out to be a serious professional clarinetist (too much performance stress!), with many other talented and hardworking clarinetists around that are much younger than me, it will be more beneficial for me to step back from the competition and enjoy their playing (or I could always get back at them by writing extremely complex music!).

You will be doing Composition Studies in the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (CvA) next September. What were the factors that compelled you to decide to study abroad?

I’ve always wanted to study abroad, and always dreamed about studying in Europe, wanting to put myself in a new environment was definitely the biggest temptation. Being constantly in the same environment is unhealthy in the long run, I was starting to feel stagnated and myopic with my views on certain issues, I had to see “what the world could offer” for myself after hearing so much from my peers and teachers. There are definitely pros and cons studying abroad, but only when I have experienced it can I tell you whether it was the right decision or not.

What are your upcoming projects in composition and other clarinet performances?

Compositionally, I have 2 commissions by 2 secondary schools wind ensembles that will be premiered in Jan & April 2011 and am hoping for more commissions and performances to come : )   I am also intending to record a few of my pieces with my Singaporean peers for my portfolio before I embark on my studies in CvA.

Performance wise, I’ll be travelling to Bremen, Germany with the SAF Central Band before the Lunar New Year and also to Chia Yi City, Taiwan with the Philharmonic Winds in July for WASBE 2011.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.