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Longtime principal clarinetist of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Robert Plane has also cultivated a vigorous solo career. He has been especially noted for his intensive explorations of the British clarinet repertory and his support of new music.
Plane was born in Great Yarmouth in the east of England and began wind studies at school on the recorder. He switched to the clarinet after hearing famed clarinetist Jack Brymer play a concert in the town's Hippodrome -- directly after a circus had closed at the venue, he recalled, and the smell of the circus animals remained. Plane's teacher was Thea King, long-time principal clarinetist of the English Chamber Orchestra. A breakthrough came in 1992 when he won the Royal Overseas League Music Competition in London. After that, he began to land solo appearances with, among others, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, the Malta Philharmonic, and the City of London Sinfonia. Plane has been an orchestral clarinetist for most of his career. After stints as the principal clarinetist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Northern Sinfonia, he joined the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in that position in 1999. He has also taught clarinet at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and Queen's University. Plane has played clarinet quintet repertory extensively with Germany's Mandelring Quartett as well as a variety of British and American groups. He is especially noted for his advocacy of contemporary music, both as a performer and as a recording artist. In the double concerto Centauromachy, by Simon Holt, he made his BBC Proms debut in 2011.
Plane's large recording catalog dates back to 1998 with a recording of Gerald Finzi's Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra, Op. 31, and has focused mostly on British music. Among his highlights is a critically acclaimed 2008 recording of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time with the Gould Piano Trio, marking the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. He has recorded for the Naxos, Chandos, and Resonus Classics labels, among others; on Resonus, he was heard on By Footpath and Stile, an album of Finzi's chamber music, in 2019.