Fall arts preview 2017: Clarinetist Liam Hockley blazes new sonic trails

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      There’s a word for a lover of movies: cinephile. Ditto for lover of sound (audiophile), lover of cheese (turophile), and even lover of rain (pluviophile). But is there one that means “lover of difficulty”?

      If there isn’t, Liam Hockley might have to coin it. Not only is he pursuing a career based on playing the most technically demanding music ever written, he’s also writing about it as part of his doctoral thesis, Performing Complexity.

      It wasn’t always thus. Growing up on Vancouver island, Hockley was first smitten by the clarinet, and then by the sounds of classic jazz. As he reports on the line from his Vancouver home, he was something of an anachronism, even in sleepy Qualicum Beach.

      “I spent more time listening to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw than anybody else, and probably would have liked to have stepped into their shoes,” he says, noting that his stepfather, a jazz pianist, encouraged that interest. But the 28-year-old performer and academic would soon be thrown into the deep end of the 21st century, after leaving home to study at the University of Victoria. The epiphany came when his clarinet instructor, Patricia Kostek, gave a recital shortly after classes started.

      “Vancouver had just hosted the International Clarinet Association’s Clarinetfest, which is a big international conference, and for this conference she had commissioned a number of new pieces by local composers for solo clarinet, or clarinet and electronics, and maybe there were one or two chamber pieces,” Hockley explains. “And that was perhaps one of the biggest moments of discovery for me, in terms of realizing just what an extended vocabulary the instrument had.…It was a very powerful moment in my development.”

      Hockley has gone on to specialize in extended techniques for the clarinet, although he doesn’t much care for that term: what others might consider alternative or avant-garde approaches to his instrument are to him only part of the everyday tool kit of the 21st-century virtuoso.

      “I think the idea of ‘impossible’ is maybe a questionable one,” he says of pieces that might ask him to navigate labyrinthine scores, produce multiple lines on his supposedly monophonic horn, or play microtonally.

      For the 2017-18 season, Hockley’s focus is, understandably, on finishing his UBC doctorate “and getting out the door”. He will, however, be showcased alongside pianist Nicole Linaksita and sound artist Nancy Tam at the Fox Cabaret on April 24, as part of a Music on Main emerging-artist showcase, and will join the Nu:BC Collective when it serves as the house band for next spring’s Sonic Boom festival.

      After that? Expect to see him performing the formerly impossible on a regular basis, both here and internationally.