Spotlight on... Christopher Pell, Principal Clarinet
by Kayla Moore
Christopher Pell’s life has always been filled with music. With an opera singer for a father and a ballerina for a mother, he was born into a life steeped in the arts, and his parents introduced him to music. He started taking piano lessons as a young child and later elected to explore school offerings to participate in band, orchestra or choir. A self-proclaimed “bad singer,” he chose band, where he tried out the different sounds and techniques of each instrument. When Chris tried the clarinet, however, the band director made everyone else stop to listen. He had found his instrument.
From then on, Chris studied and played clarinet. He moved from his hometown to New York City, where he studied under the tutelage of clarinet greats David Weber and Jon Manasse. He attended Juilliard Pre-College during high school and continued to The Juilliard School, where he earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 2013. His first orchestra position was with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, where starting in 2012 he served as Principal Clarinet, and in the fall of 2018 he came to Cincinnati as Principal Clarinet with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Chris reflects on his life as a musician and notes that he doesn’t have particular inspirations but rather influences. “My teacher growing up, Jon Manasse, was a primary influence, and listening to his recordings drew me further into playing clarinet. Alongside of that though, incredibly emotive artists I listen to influence me, and I’m also inspired by the work ethic of athletes. I feel like athletes and musicians have a lot in common, in that we have ‘solitary professions.’ Athletes, tennis players for example, work incredibly hard, train daily, and learn the intricacies of their sport. Musicians practice and live in a similar headspace, while functioning as part of a multi-faceted creative system when working in an orchestra.”
From this idea of influence and inspiration, Chris went on to discuss his thoughts on learning and breaking away from the sound of other musicians. “Wind instrumentalists tend to emulate others. We have a concept of a sound we like, from teachers we like, and then we have to learn how to ‘break off.’ This is one of the biggest challenges, finding your own sound. Finding your own feeling for your performance. That’s what distinguishes you from others.” Chris has found the CSO to be a place where he can let his unique personal sound, as well as his technical skill, shine.
Spontaneity and laughter are important to Chris as well: “I think my favorite part of performance is being spontaneous—playing around with what I’ve worked on in rehearsal, and knowing that the others around me know what’s happening. It allows for incredible sound and creativity during a performance. I’ve also come to find that trying to get others to laugh is important. Maybe someone might be nervous, or have a really difficult part in the piece we’re rehearsing. Looking over at someone when you’re not playing and making them laugh is something I love about being in the Orchestra.”
The technical skill, passion, collaborative creativity, and joy Chris brings to his solo and orchestral roles point to an exciting future of music-making in Cincinnati. Welcome to the CSO family, Chris!