Aaron Lipsky is a 16-year-old junior at Asheville’s A.C. Reynolds High School. But by many measures, Lipsky is far beyond his years.
Lipsky is a clarinetist, rehearsing here with another clarinetist and a pianist for a concert he put together. Lipsky estimates his business, called Clarinet and Friends, drums up eight or nine performances every month at churches, house concerts and retirement communities throughout Western North Carolina.
“It’s kinda based on this idea the clarinet can play so many different styles of music that I just wanted to play as many concerts as possible,” Lipsky said.
Beyond his entrepreneurship, some in the local classical music community have called Lipsky a prodigy. He was only an eighth-grader when he was first accepted into Brevard Music Center’s summer program and he spent this past summer studying at the vaunted Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
This is the path of someone tracking to a top-flight conservatory. But from his earliest days with the clarinet, Lipsky soaked up and explored a variety of music, reading classical charts while learning to play jazz and rock by ear.
Lipsky’s grandfather is a composer who gave Lipsky his first clarinet, but it was his father’s massive album collection that opened Lipsky to Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Miles Davis.
“I didn’t have the music and there’s really no way to have the music for what they were doing, so I just turned it on and went note by note to what they were doing,” Lipsky said. “That’s what was really fun, and still is.”
On YouTube, there are videos of Lipsky performing a ragtime piece by Scott Joplin and a Weber clarinet concerto as a guest soloist with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. In both videos, he performs with an unconscious swagger, dipping at the knees and then rising with a sway and a flurry of notes.
Daniel Weiser is the founding director of Asheville’s AmiciMusic, which presents chamber music concerts. He said Lipsky was just 12 years old when a colleague of Weiser's asked him to let Lipsky sit in on an upcoming performance.
“I mean, he just went up on stage without any rehearsal and just nailed it,” Weiser said. “I was like ‘All right, this guy can play.’
In Lipsky, Weiser said he hears the maturity of a professional musician twice his age, not only on stage but in his knowledge of music. Weiser recalled Lipsky’s performance at a house concert not long ago for the Biltmore Lake Wine Club.
“He wasn’t drinking the wine, but he was talking to these people as if he understood how the wine related to Brahms, and it was just unbelievable watching him,” Weiser said. “Everyone came up to me afterward and they said ‘How old is that kid? He seems like he knows everything out there.’”
Lipsky is a sports fan—his front license plate is the logo of the New York Giants football team—but he has adorned his bedroom walls with a promotional poster of Asheville Symphony’s second Amadeus Festival and a signed photo from the director of the U.S. Marine Corps band.
The AmiciMusic programs featuring Lipsky are Sept. 28 at the Deerfield Retirement Community in Asheville and Sept. 29 at White Horse Black Mountain. Lipsky is performing a piece his grandfather composed, inspired by a series of Piccaso’s paintings.
“Dan (Weiser) always says something I think is great,” Lipsky said. “You lock yourself in the practice room and work your fingers to death for five hours a day. But if you go outside the practice room and look at paintings and art and other examples of feelings you’re trying to replicate, just in a different form, it just enriches your playing more.”