Meet your faculty: Bryan Conger

  • Bryan Conger teaches a clarinet lesson in his studio.

Instructor of Clarinet Dr. Bryan Conger brings an impressive array of professional and academic experience to his studio at Interlochen Arts Academy.

Conger recently completed his Doctor of Musical Arts in Clarinet Performance at The Juilliard School, where he previously earned his Masters of Music. While at Juilliard, Conger taught ESL and music theory and analysis to undergraduate students. Before pursuing his doctorate, Conger taught for two years at the John Cooper School in Houston, Texas.

As a professional musician, Conger has performed with a number of contemporary and traditional ensembles. Conger served for a number of years as the principal clarinet with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco, where he performed on historical instruments. He has also performed with Symphony in C in New York, the Texas New Music Ensemble and The New Juilliard Ensemble. Additionally, he has performed as a saxophonist and clarinetist on Broadway and on tour with Idina Menzel.

We caught up with Conger to learn about some of his personal and professional favorite things.

What’s your favorite piece to play and why? (Solo and full-orchestral?)
My favorite solo piece—though it's really a chamber piece with a solo movement—is Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. The circumstances surrounding the composition (it was written in a prisoner of war camp during World War II) and the otherworldly music itself are both incredible. Whenever the Messiaen gets performed, it's always a profound experience for the audience members and musicians. My favorite orchestral piece, on the other hand, is Beethoven's considerably lighter 6th Symphony, which has so many wonderful clarinet moments. Interesting connection: in both the Messiaen and Beethoven, the clarinet takes on the role of a singing bird.

Who’s your favorite composer?
Usually, whoever composed music I'm playing at the moment becomes my favorite for that week or month. But I always end up coming back to J.S. Bach. If I had to pick, then, he'd be it.

If you had to choose a different instrument, what would it be and why?
Well, I already play the saxophone and piano; I guess either of those two would make the easiest transition. Just for the repertoire of Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Brahms, though, I'd probably pick the piano. Creston? No thank you, saxophonists.

Who was the best teacher you’ve ever had? Why?
That’s a very tough question: I can't pick only one. My two main clarinet teachers, Jeff Lerner and Charlie Neidich, were very important to me. Although they played and taught very differently from one another, both of them approached the clarinet with the mindset that technique and expression are completely intertwined. And now that I'm teaching my own studio, I'm even more amazed at what they did for me.

What’s one of your most embarrassing moments from a rehearsal, audition or performance?
A few years ago, I was in the later round of an orchestra audition. The five or six remaining players were asked to play some of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, a notoriously difficult piece for clarinet players. For most auditions, you play the first couple of pages of music, which I had prepared and was ready to crush, then jump to the last couple of pages, which were equally crushable. But when the monitor put up the cuts, I saw that the committee was asking for an additional ten pages of music. And somehow, I had overlooked these pages when going through the repertoire list and compiling the excerpts.

As the first candidate to play, I'm nervously fingering through some passages while contemplating awkwardly sneaking out of the concert hall. Right before I start, however, the committee calls the monitor back behind the curtain to chat. "Great," I think, "more practice time." He then reemerges and informs me that the committee—perhaps under the influence of some cosmic force of mercy—has decided to cut down the Ravel to the first couple of pages. "I'm saved! Time to crush!"

But alas, I totally bombed the audition. My mind was so discombobulated that I could hardly play. I still suffer bad dreams, during which I'm forced to audition on music I haven't prepared.

Why did you choose the clarinet?
A friend from down the street played the clarinet. All the cool kids were doing it.

Tell us about your instruments. What make/model are they, and do they have any interesting personal or historical significance?
Nothing fancy: just Buffet R13s. My particular clarinets, though, have been tweaked by a brilliant technician in New York City named Wojtek Komsta. In that sense, then, I guess they're special; they aren't the same R13s you would buy at a music store.

Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?
Either a great book or an awful movie. My perfect evening would be reading one of the Dubliners stories followed up by watching Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Do you prefer coffee or tea?
Coffee.

Sunrise or sunset?
Sunset: I'm never awake early enough to see a sunrise. Moreover, are sunrises even special? Perhaps they're just a ruse by the cult of early-morning people to recruit new members. I'm not buying it.

Want to study with Bryan Conger? Apply to Interlochen Arts Academy to audition for a place in his studio.

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