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Phillips steps up front for weekend concerts

Clarinetist Chip Phillips has taken a long road from his hometown of Redmond, Wash., near Seattle, to the stage of the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, where he will be the featured soloist in this weekend’s Spokane Symphony concerts.

The orchestra, led by guest conductor David Amado, will perform Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in addition to Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet with Phillips as soloist.

“This weekend’s concerts present a very different role for me,” says Phillips, the symphony’s principal clarinetist since 2000.

“Being an orchestral clarinet player sitting back there having solos that last for maybe 20 seconds is really different from standing in front of the orchestra and playing a concerto that lasts something like 30 minutes.”

Phillips recalls having heard a recording of the Mozart concerto even before he began playing the clarinet.

“My father listened to classical music a lot,” he says. “He played saxophone and clarinet, though not professionally, and he started me on saxophone when I was in the third grade. Then when my fingers could cover the holes on the clarinet, he started me on that. 

“I started looking at the Mozart concerto when I was in the seventh grade. I hate to think what it must have sounded like.”

Phillips was a music major at Central Washington University before moving to Boston as a scholarship student at the New England Conservatory.

After finishing his undergraduate studies in clarinet with Bill Wrzesein and Thom Martin, he joined the Boston freelance scene and became principal clarinetist with the New Bedford Symphony. He also performed Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” in a concert with Richard Stoltzman.

Phillips played as principal clarinetist with the New Zealand Symphony and with the Alabama Symphony before coming to Spokane in 2000.

In addition to his orchestral position, he is on the music faculty at Gonzaga University and maintains a private teaching studio. He lives in Spokane with his wife, Amanda Howard-Phillips, the symphony’s principal second violinist.

Phillips has a second passion beside music. An award-winning photographer (you can see some of his photographs at chipphillipsphotography.smugmug.com), he sees many parallels between what he does with the clarinet and what he does with the camera.

“In music you have a certain set of notes in front of you, but you or any other clarinetist can create something personal with those notes,” he says. “And you have a scene in nature, but if you have 50 different photographers shooting from the same spot, you’d have 50 different images, each with its own personality.”

Guest conductor Amado grew up in Philadelphia, where his mother was a violinist. The family also includes his grandmother, the legendary violist Lillian Fuchs, as well as her brother, violinist Joseph Fuchs.

Amado began piano lessons at age 5 and attended the pre-college division of the Juilliard School in New York as a piano student, continuing at Juilliard in his college years.

He received a master’s degree in conducting from Indiana University and began his conducting career with an apprenticeship with the Oregon Symphony. He served six years as the associate conductor of the St. Louis Symphony and is in his sixth season as music director of the Delaware Symphony.

Amado and Phillips will discuss the music on this weekend’s program in pre-concert talks one hour before each performance time.



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