For the past week, world renowned clarinet player and professor Oskar Espina-Ruiz has been in the Permian Basin, going to different schools to give woodwind players tips on how to be better performers.
Espina-Ruiz, who is now a Professor of Clarinet at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., has been described as a masterful soloist and has traveled all over the world performing at many different orchestras and ensembles.
Espina-Ruiz has been in the area, courtesy of Cassatt in the Basin.
This was the second time in three years that Espina-Ruiz has made the trip to the Permian Basin.
“I participated two years ago and the first time they had a woodwind faculty in the area and it worked pretty well,” Espina-Ruiz said. “Now that the pandemic is rescinding, it was a good time to come down and Cassatt in the Basin brought me back here.”
Espina-Ruiz began his tour around the basin last Thursday, visiting Midland High, UTPB, Odessa High, The Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale, Trinity School, Compass Academy and Midland Legacy.
He will finish up Wednesday with stops at Midland Legacy and Permian High School.
“I’ve spent nearly a week working with talented students, working in the different high schools in the area,” Espina-Ruiz said. “It’s been fantastic.”
Espina-Ruiz has been performing the Brahms E-Flat Major Sonata with Pianist Shari Santorelli at a few different stops.
“Santorelli is a fantastic pianist and we’ve been performing a couple of times,” Espina-Ruiz said. “We’ve had the opportunity to play for students and I give them some feedback when they play for me. Sometimes, we’ll talk about the fundamentals of posture and breathing with the entire wind section. It’s a little different with some students. Here at the university, I have been coaching chamber music. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been great.”
On Tuesday, Espina-Ruiz began the day at Compass Academy which included a performance of the E-Flat Major Sonata with Santorelli before moving over to UTPB and then finishing the day at Odessa High School.
“At UTPB, I’ve been coaching chamber music and have coached two trios,” Espina-Ruiz said. “They’ve been learning their instrument individually and coming together to rehearse. It’s always fun to have a new point of view to bring new ideas into the good work that they are already doing. That’s been here.”
Espina-Ruiz says he’s worked on different things at the high schools.
“In the schools, it varies,” Espina-Ruiz said. “At Odessa High, I’ve been working with the entire clarinet section and there are a lot of them. It’s a large school. We’ve worked on some fundamentals and almost at every place, the clarinets are preparing for the regional auditions. They’ve played for me some of the repertoire of the auditions. … It’s a little different at each place but I’m enjoying working with the students.”
In the past, Espina-Ruiz has been part of the clarinet faculty at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in San Juan, P.R. from 2009-11 and has been the Artistic Director of the Treetops Chamber Music Society in Stamford, Conn. since 2006.
His career highlights include appearing as a soloist with the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony in Russia, the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic in Russia and the Bilbao Symphony in Spain.
His chamber music collaborations include the Shanghai, Escher and Calla quartets, the Quintet of the Americas, pianist Anthony Newman, cellist David Geber and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra artists.
He was also featured as a soloist at the 20th Tokyo Summer festival and the European Mozart Academy.
“It’s a blessing to have him here and people like him here,” Adjunct Music Faculty member at UTPB Philip Hill said. “It’s really great that in a small university like this, we can still have great artists come through and help the students in addition to the great faculty that’s already here. That’s not common for every school to have that. Cassatt in the Basin is a great organization that we have (here) and he’s sponsored through a program that’s dedicated to enriching this community. We’re very blessed to have that.”
Hill said he hopes his students took the general sense of what it’s like being a musician from their lessons with Espina-Ruiz and getting used to playing without a conductor in an ensemble.
“That’s the whole point of the wind ensemble class,” Hill said. “They’re playing music without a conductor and the younger ones, the freshmen and sophomore, they’ve been with a conductor since middle school … in a chamber ensemble, I tell them that if there are three people in an ensemble, each of them are 1/3 a conductor and to think of it that way. Professor Espina-Ruiz spent a lot of time helping them with how to stay on cue and different movements that they can make. That’s not easy to teach. … A big part of being a musician is moving while you’re playing and showing the other ensemble members your intentions.”
UTPB freshman and clarinet player Kimberly Lopez from Midland said she learned a bunch from Espina-Ruiz.
“He’s helped me a lot with how I played clarinet because I’ve always played it in a weird way so he taught me how to fix that,” said Lopez, who is a graduate of Midland High and majoring in music. “He also taught how to tune my instrument and how to use my air more so he taught me a lot more than what I’ve learned over the years.”