Oran Etkin holding a clarinet and smiling

Oran Etkin – 'Open Arms'

January 22, 2023 | Polsky Theatre

Past Event

Etkin's unique sound on the clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone comes from an openness to deep musical connections that transcend cultural and generational boundaries.

Oran Etkin, described as “ebullient” by the New York Times, was voted No. 1 Rising Star Clarinetist in DownBeat Magazine's 2016 Critics Poll. He has been invited several times to be a guest lecturer at Harvard University. Etkin's music can be heard on concert stages worldwide and numerous recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning anti-bullying compilation album.

Etkin reimagined how touring could become part of the creative process with his “Gathering Light” project. Flipping the traditional record-then-tour model, he first toured in Indonesia, China, Japan, Israel and West Africa and then let the rhythms and melodies he encountered influence the music he created with his New York-based band of Nasheet Waits, Ben Allison, Lionel Loueke and Curtis Folks.

Since then, Etkin has deepened his concept of gathering light as he tours by taking time off between shows to live with traditional mbira masters in Zimbabwe or building collaborative projects with Roma (Gypsy) musicians in Czech Republic. In April 2020, Etkin launched the “Open Arms” project, a monthly release of singles and music videos recorded and filmed around the world with master musicians in locations such as Rio de Janeiro; Harare, Zimbabwe; Prague; São Paulo; and Paris. He also released a similar project for children, “Finding Friends Far from Home,” filming and recording on location around the world. 

Etkin feels a strong responsibility to pass the rich musical traditions of this world to the next generation. For nearly a decade, his Timbalooloo program has created a paradigm shift in music education, instilling the idea of music as communication and dialogue by making instruments come alive and talk with each other.

Etkin's deep passion for music was nurtured from an early age by both formal training and informal mentorship by his elders. By the age of 9, Etkin was playing piano, guitar, violin and saxophone. After he fell in love with the music of Louis Armstrong, Etkin's parents took him to visit New Orleans, where the legendary Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen briefly took the young Etkin under his wing. He continued his studies with jazz saxophone greats such as George Garzone, Dave Liebman and Yusef Lateef, symphonic clarinetists Charles Neidich and Tom Martin, and traditional griot musicians from West Africa.

Etkin received his master's degree in music from Manhattan School of Music. Now as a touring musician, Etkin continues to collaborate with great musicians from many cultures, experiencing firsthand how in every society, the true power of music lies not just in the individual's pursuit of technical mastery but in the joyful and soulful creation of community!