Good things come to those who wait, and the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Clarinetist, Dominic Desautels, still has to wait a little longer for his local soloist debut. But he’s no stranger to patience when it comes to the most important things in life.
“I came to learn music very late,” says Desautels. “I started playing the clarinet at 15. For the record, that’s very late. A lot of my colleagues had started much earlier in life.”
Raised in small-town Quebec on a steady diet of his father’s favourite vintage British rock, Desautels found himself drawn to the orchestration of bands like Pink Floyd and Supertramp, but it took him a while to realize where his true interest lay.
“I thought the saxophone was an awesome instrument and I started playing the saxophone in high school, maybe a year before I started the clarinet,” says Desautels. “It was an instrument I could not relate to physically. It didn’t work. And then I tried the clarinet…and I played a low C, I remember, on the plastic clarinet from high school—It was not even an advanced music program—and this sort of bubble surrounded me of this sound, and then I thought ‘I have to play this.’”
And that’s exactly what Desautels did. Two years later, at age 17, he began formal lessons, and from there Desautels’ clarinet career took off, seeing him take the stage as a soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at just 21.
“Things really happened very, very quickly for me because I loved it so much,” says Desautels. “I had no time to lose and I was behind everybody, so I thought I had to catch up so much. I had a lot of insecurity that I had started so late. I practiced really hard and here we are.”
Where we are is on the cusp of witnessing Desautels’s HPO soloist debut in June of 2021 with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, a selection that remarkably parallels Desautels’ own musical journey.
“I started playing the clarinet later but the clarinet came later to the world,” says Desautels. “The oboe, the flute, the bassoon…existed already for a long time and were already very well used and understood in the baroque era, and the clarinet did not exist in the baroque era. There’s an ancestor to the clarinet that existed at the time but it really came to life in the classical period and Mozart discovered it a bit later in his life. The clarinet concerto is one of his very last pieces in his life. It’s a piece that’s very close, it’s my favourite of them all. The second movement is divine, really; it’s pure music. I don’t have enough words to describe that music, it’s just really magical.”
Like picking up the clarinet, finding his way to the HPO didn’t happen right away for Desautels. He trained and played in a number of places around the world, from Halifax to Brazil, but his passion for clarinet and the support of his family have remained throughout.
“It’s about finding a balance,” says Desautels. “One cannot just play music all day long and do nothing else. You have to go through life. For any musician it’s how we can relate to our emotional baggage and apply or communicate with our craft—that is, play an instrument—so we channel it through that.”
In the lead-up to June, Desautels is teaching at U of T and is the Principal Clarinetist for the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. He will also be featured in the HPO’s Whimsical Woodwinds concert premiering on the 17th of October, so for those eager to hear him play, the wait will be an uncharacteristically short one.