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The Opportunity of a Lifetime for UW–Madison Student Musicians - Performing with Clarinetist Anthony McGill

Posted: 03/06/23

The Opportunity of a Lifetime for UW–Madison Student Musicians - Performing with Clarinetist Anthony McGill

By Amanda Stezenski

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Symphony Orchestra (UWSO) has rehearsed all semester long in preparation for April 4, when it shares the stage with Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, as part of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s 2023-24 season. 

The program is a special experience for the UW–Madison undergraduate and graduate musicians of UWSO, as it’s not common at universities to have the opportunity to play alongside such renowned professionals. 

For the UW–Madison clarinetists, this experience will be especially memorable. Many woodwind students dream of being in the principal chair of an orchestra. It is a highly competitive position that takes years of practice and commitment, especially at the caliber of the New York Philharmonic. We’ve asked two UW–Madison clarinetists what the opportunity to play alongside Anthony McGill means to them. 

Who is Anthony McGill to you? 

“He’s probably one of the first famous clarinetists I learned about as a high school student,” recalls Gretchen Hill, a second-year master’s student studying clarinet performance. “One of the most important things Anthony McGill is known for is being the first African American principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, which is incredible. I think Anthony McGill has done a lot for African American classical musicians as a leader and an icon and just someone everyone can look up to.”

“I’ve actually met him before!” exclaims Caroline Miller, a sophomore in the clarinet studio at UW–Madison. He performed the Mozart Clarinet Quintet at her high school–Interlochen Arts Academy–and Caroline says, “I was working on [the Mozart Quintet], and he also is an Interlochen alum. The fact that I was playing the same repertoire at the time…it was crazy to be like, wow, you’ve done all of these similar steps, and now you’re the first chair of the New York Phil. It was just very inspiring, and he was so kind.” 

What went through your mind when you heard he was coming to UW–Madison?

Caroline says, “I first heard before I even got into the school; I was currently in the process of hearing back from the university. I think it just made me even more excited to be a UW–Madison student. I mean the fact that it’s a school that is able to have these opportunities and bring in these renowned musicians…it was very exciting.” 

Caroline Miller

What do you hope to learn from Anthony McGill?

Gretchen emphasizes the importance of learning from musicians with orchestral experience, saying, “They have a unique perspective on how to win an orchestral job, because it’s probably one of the hardest things a classical musician has to do and accomplish.” 

Anthony will teach a studio class during which students will have the opportunity to perform orchestral audition excerpts. 

Gretchen goes on, “The chance to get to play for him could potentially be door-opening for sure. He’s one of the biggest names in clarinet playing, so just the potential of that networking situation is extremely valuable.”

Gretchen continues, “We can all learn from his perspective of being an African American classical musician, and I think it’s always important to learn about people’s stories and hear what they’ve gone through to get where they are today.”

Gretchen Hill

What distinguishes Anthony McGill from other clarinetists in the field? 

“I feel like with the age of social media, he is very prevalent on [social platforms], and I think it’s just so helpful to have that kind of presence,” asserts Caroline.

Have you had an experience like this before?

At Interlochen, Caroline had a few opportunities to meet professional musicians. But she says she hasn’t had a full-scale experience like this one. 

“It is very exciting. Getting to be placed in the orchestra this semester of all [semesters], I feel very lucky,” Caroline says. “Getting to hear him play the Debussy Rhapsodie as well as the Weber Concerto–I have played the Concerto–it just feels very full circle.” 

Caroline listened to McGill’s recording of the Weber Concerto religiously while learning it, “and then it’s like wow! I’m literally sitting in the back of this ensemble with Anthony McGill!” 

What does this opportunity mean to you? 

“I mean, it doesn’t seem possible for this to be happening,” Gretchen remarks. “You have these clarinet idols, and they’re kind of like the Harry Styles of clarinet playing, so you don’t really expect to meet anyone this famous in real life. It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a really young clarinetist.”

Caroline affirms, “I feel super excited for this opportunity, and it wouldn’t happen without the financial supporters of the [arts]. This is huge for music students like me and especially clarinetists and other woodwind players, getting to meet someone so influential in the community and someone I look up to.” 

“It’s truly just a dream come true,” insists Gretchen. 


Join us in hearing all three of these wonderful clarinetists live on April 4 at 7:30 p.m. CST in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall at the Hamel Music Center or through virtual livestreaming. You can purchase tickets here

To support more opportunities like this through the Wisconsin Union Theater, please consider donating to our André De Shields Fund, which helps fund performances by historically under-represented artists.

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