Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Works for Old Instruments

An interesting phenomena in the contemporary music world is that many of these advocates are also very well versed in the field of period music. Thus is the case for composer Hans Huyssen, a prominent figure in South Africa. Huyssen himself wears many hats; he is a baroque cellist, conductor and educator. With a recent reading of an original composition of his by the KZNPO, I had an opportunity to discover that much of his compositional output is conducive for both modern and period ensembles.  This can be a fascinating cross over and one that I personally hope will continue to grow in this country. Of course, the lack of period instruments and performers is the most obvious challenge. However, like most areas of the arts, knowledge and persistence can make a world of difference.

Other composers have delved into this strange territory. An incredible work by Mauricio Kagel entitled "Music for Renaissance Instruments" explores the sound possibilities of period instruments in an entirely new way. A quote from Kagel himself during an interview with Anthony Coleman about this work:

           I really tried to understand the true function of some of these instruments. I read all that I could about the bizarre fingering techniques, because the instruments themselves are so primitively made that they are always damaged. This for me was the link to new music, because I was trying to work with the natural state of the sounds, and each of these instruments was like a generator of denaturate sounds. So I wrote for each instrument separately to make a unity of musical discourse and functional technique. 

Kagel's composition dates from 1965-66 but this link between new and old continues to be explored. It appears that there will be three new additions to this unusual compositional experimentation list, as they have been comission to write for what is arguably the best known collaboration between contemporary and period ensembles; ensemble recherche and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Both groups are exceptional in their own genre, but also push artistic limits by offering a combined summer academy for students. At the 2011 academy, they ensembles will be performing three works by composers commissioned last year to write for a mixture of modern and period instruments. These progressive performances are yet another example of artists creating not only opportunities for themselves, but contributing to significant artistic growth as well. 

*A shout out to oboists everywhere, if you can manage to attend the joint-masterclass held by oboist Jamie González and baroque oboist Katharina Arfken in Freiburg, Germany from March 17th-19th. 
I am quite certain that it will be an extraordinary event - the deadline is January 15th, 2011!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sticking to Your Word

This week concluded the KZN Phil's collaboration with the Cape Town City Ballet Company; Prokofiev's "Cinderella". Needless to say, there was much neck-craning from the pit to catch a glimpse of the beautiful costumes and audiences full of little girls in their own ballet-inspired outfits. As the orchestra made its way to the parking-lot after the shows, one couldn't help but observe the many spontaneous reenactments of the ballerinas by little kids and their parents, who were already thinking of ways to prevent their offspring from winding up as another starving artist. It made me think about what pivotal words of advice had an impact on my ultimate decision to go into music, and interestingly, the words that stick out the most were not the positive ones.
I'd like to think that my career has been filled with nothing but those Hollywood-style pep talks, like the one in the locker room right before the "big game". There are certainly words of confidence and encouragement that are meaningful to me, but it was the desire to overcome the negative feedback that I believe had the strongest impact on me. None of these comments stemmed from pure maliciousness; their power comes from the fact that they were said with no ulterior motive, simply very honest feedback.
The earliest I can remember was some summer music teacher who graded me on how well I prepared a book of etudes. I can only imagine how dedicated I was to preparing scales and etudes when I was 11-years old...but I remember her writing a large "F" on one in particular. My total lack of preparation resulted in an unacceptable rendition; it was a very small but visual symbol of failure. I was the only oboe student I knew of at the time, and therefore I believed that my achievements should be setting the standard; how could I fail with nobody to compare to? Perhaps I wasn't actually fooling anyone when I didn't practice...for as much encouragement as I am sure I received during that first summer, I only remember that lesson.
It was during this same summer that our neighbors next door called and asked, in all seriousness, if I was taking up the bag-pipes.  I'm sure it was an accurate description but I can remember vividly wanting to sound better. This strong desire to improve had a clear inception point, it did not stem from the words of encouragement that I had received. A few year later in middle school, my own band director would make the judgement call to introduce my oboe as "the nasal instrument" in front of the entire school; the Loboe Project itself is a manifestation of my determination to overcome that very perception.
The words that stuck to me the most came at perhaps the most critical point in my education. I was fortunate enough to spend a summer at the Eastman School's "Music Horizons" program, a two-week crash course of what conservatory life is like, aimed at high-school musicians. Most students left the program with either a burning passion to make it into a music school or an extreme feeling of relief that they were going to avoid this path. I had not only decided that I wanted to go into music, but that I wanted to study at Eastman itself. Clearly, the school had made a good impression on me...
However, it was during a lesson with the program's oboe instructor at the time, (a former alumna and incredibly talented oboist who would later go on to a successful orchestral career), that I received some shocking information. I played a solo oboe work and asked her if she thought I was on track to study music in college (I had two more years of high-school at that point). She said right away, "oh no, I don't think your conservatory material". I respected this oboist's playing so much and had been trying to soak up as much of her advice as possible; this was devastating to hear. Two weeks in this amazing environment were instantly replaced by the one candid opinion of a former student. I don't remember what the rest of the lesson was like, only my determination to overcome this verbal set-back.
In the end, whatever one's motivation might be, or how it developed, perhaps it is the negative feedback that is the most powerful catalyst for success.  Dance-class enrollment may have increased in Durban following the ballet production; I wonder how many students will be motivated to persevere beyond their own inevitable negative critiques...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What Would Your 50 Pounds of Music Look Like?

What Would Your 50 Pounds of Music Look Like? 

The reality of musicians moving abroad is that space for our scores and sheet music is severely limited to a mere fraction of its original amount.  Thanks to the flash drive, scanner and programs like Google Documents, we can still bring most of our music back to life, though be it through a printer. But there are some scores one simply cannot part with, not to mention bigger collections of work, no matter how practical their use may be in the new location.

Between chamber music, solo literature and other technical books, filtering out which physical scores made the cut was a process that took a great deal of editing; no musical “Kindle” equivalent would cut it for these.  As we all know, music adds up fast. I think for all musicians, there are those certain scores that have been through countless master classes, lessons, and performances and have those personal markings that make them invaluable to us. Of course, one can have things shipped and bring additional materials over on subsequent trips back home, but for me, the following music felt as vital to have as the Loboe itself:

In no particular order...
Concerto for Oboe - Mozart
Fractured Colloquy - David Plylar (oboe and piano)
Gillet Etudes
Musik fur Oboe und Orchester - Wolfgang Rihm (solo part and piano part)
"The Oboe" - Geoffrey Burgess and Bruce Haynes
Sequenza VIIa per Oboe by Luciano Berio
Silvers - Hannah Lash
"Patterns for Improvisation" - Oliver Nelson
"Techniques of Oboe Playing" - Peter Veale and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf
Ten Klezmer Duos by M. Curtis
Wildlife - Robert Morris for oboe, piano and percussion

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Music and the Internet - Food for Thought

winston the pigeon My last post was dedicated to the very serious issue that South Africa's artistic communities face when it comes their relationship with the Internet. I learned of an incredible news story that I feel sums up the problem quite well, click the headline below to read the full story.

Indeed, a carrier pigeon named "Winston" was able to deliver 4GB of data faster than the Internet. And not just by a little bit. The pigeon flew 70k and yet still managed to deliver the data card strapped to his leg and have the information successfully delivered in just over 2 hours, whereas the same information sent via ADSL downloading was only at 4% complete by the time the pigeon experiment was complete. 

It should be a fundamental right for musicians to be able to refresh the "job opportunities" page on a site like or stay current with arts journals and such without it costing a small fortune. Once musicians leave the music conservatory, access to opportunity listings is greatly diminished simply by not being in an academic environment with artistic networks. The image of the 21st century classical musician is evolving quickly and so is the way we learn about other opportunities.

Since we couldn't bring our beloved pet guinea pig Webster with us to South Africa, perhaps we should consider getting into the pigeon scene; this new pet could really come in handy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Can Classical Music Survive Without the Internet?

Every week countless emails go out to musicians about how to use social networking to their advantage, creating new marketing strategies via blogs and twitter, and countless other ways to turn your home computer into your career's most critical tool.  Success stories are frequently featured on NPR and arts journals about how small-time artists beat the odds and succeeded in a down market. It's unthinkable to not have a personal website in Los Angeles, whether you are just a private teacher looking to increase your studio or a major performing ensemble looking to book gigs. Music organizations are judged for their site's accessibility and interactive components, as well as elements like YouTube and Pod casts. It has become industry standard; the key to self-promotion is through one's personal knowledge and command of the Internet.

Introduce "Capped Internet" to the picture... 

To our shock, South Africa has a very different relationship with the Internet. Here your access is based on how much bandwidth you use and general web surfing speed as just a tad slower than the US norm. Every download of an image, song, and God help you YouTube broadcast, eats away an incredibly large percentage of your monthly allowance.  Emails are generally harmless as purely text items, but a signature or company logo at the bottom instantly takes more away from your allotment and forget about uploading your ensemble's photos onto Facebook! There is one way to access uncapped Internet, it's true, but this involves renting a special line that has to be installed or rented and is the equivalent of about $150 just for the monthly Internet fee (for one computer only). This has been perhaps the hardest change to get used to and we have never been more appreciative of the luxury of uncapped Internet in the US.  

So what does this mean for the artistic industry in South Africa? How do orchestras, chamber groups, and soloists compete in the current music world with Internet that is terribly behind the times? The answer is not through the schools, as I learned that at the local Universities, features like Facebook and YouTube are blocked specifically because they eat up too much bandwidth. Granted, I have occasionally fallen victim to watching things on YouTube that are more for their comedic value vs. artistic merit...but in the bigger picture, these Internet features are critical to musicians being able to self-promote their work and gain exposure to the music scene around the world, not to mention share information and resources within the country. Web surfing does not have the same impact here, which means loading up your website with all the latest interactive features simply means people will avoid your site, as it takes too long to load and eats up too much bandwidth.  It wasn't until the last few decades that Internet access changed the world, and the arts proved that they could succeed without it. However, I challenge you;  could you promote your art as effectively without a dependency on the Internet?

As students in the US are taking courses dedicated solely to concepts like "using social networking to boost concert attendance", South African organizations are needing to think outside the box, or in this case, computer.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Out of Africa, Into the Orchestra

This week marked our first week working for the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa and needless to say, there is much to get adjusted to as neither of us have ever been to the African continent before. Like so many musicians, we decided to look a little further for opportunities and felt like we beat the odds finding employment together in the same organization. I took this photo during our four-day trek across the country from Los Angeles to Chicago in our moving truck, our guinea pig Webster sitting between us the whole ride. 

Life as an active free-lance oboist and self-employed chamber musician was a constant balancing act between striving for artistic merit and basic survival. While many of my former school friends and teachers might be surprised to find me in a full-time orchestra, it was the unique chance to perform with a quality ensemble and pursue other artistic interests like new music, chamber music and of course, the Loboe Project, that attracted me to the position. Tomorrow marks our first full week in South Africa and the completion of three concerts. 

I was initially struck by certain similarities that a full-time orchestra in Africa has in common with the free-lancer life-style.  In Los Angeles, a good week for an oboist might consist of some sort of church gig, teaching and various kinds of regional orchestra concerts. Playing everything from Pop and Jewish music concerts to Mexican Christian CD releases and independent film scores in LA gives a musician consistent practice in being able to sight-read just about anything and quickly perform the concert/recording session. The first concert this week was called an "Indian Experience", reflecting the interests of the largest population of Indians outside of India here in Durban. The experience reminded me so much of a concert that could be done in Los Angeles and oddly enough, resulted in a very familiar feeling for me. The following night was a traditional symphony orchestra concert and this weekend there will be an all baroque-music concert. 

While studying in school, many musicians dedicate their time and energy to the orchestral literature.  This is obviously an essential act for those seeking an orchestra career, however; musicians should take the opportunity to play music of different genres very seriously, as the ability to master music in any style is in fact a critical skill set. Whether in school of not, I highly encourage oboists to expose themselves to as many genres as possible.  While not all music that a free-lancer encounters warrants extensive preparation, showing an understanding of the style certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.  Times being as they are, we need to make the best of these Pops concerts!

I was also quite delighted to find a practical use for the Loboe during my first week. In an overture by Handel, the oboe part doubles the violin and behold! A low "A" that does not need to be left out! Though I do not know it for an absolute fact, I was informed that there are about fifteen professional oboists in all of South Africa and thus I am fairly certain that the Loboe will not find any siblings here...for now! 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Double Reed Soul - How Well Do You Really Know Your Instrument?

The relationship between musicians and their instruments is like the business-person with their laptop or the Tween with their iPhone. These tools can literally craft our very identity. So why is it that for so many students and pros alike, making regular adjustments and upkeep to our instruments proves so difficult and easy to avoid? I wish that I could say that every time I sit down to play I obediently check to make sure everything feels correct; I usually only stop if something is drastically out of the ordinary and that's after I try to blame the reed before resorting to the screw-driver. While in college, the difference in time spent learning about reed-making to learning about oboe repair is, shall we say, vast. It is such a crucial part of the professional musician's life, yet repair shops are usually overbooked. Cracks and pad replacements are one thing, but I am willing to bet that repair people see many more cases of basic upkeep neglect.

This all begs the question;
you know oboe but do you really know your instrument?

This thought was running through my mind a few days ago as I made my final trip to the incredible RDG Woodwinds store in Los Angeles. I have been terribly fortunate to have always lived in cities close to an oboe repair shop and Friday's trip was an attempt to cram in as much maintenance knowledge in two hours as possible. The reason for all of this is that I recently won the principal oboe position with the Kwazulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa and my husband will be running the orchestra's New Music Initiative starting on September 20th. Needless to say, the idea of what my reeds will do and how my oboe will react to the change in climate have dominated most of my thoughts. The safety net is gone in terms of immediate repair solutions, and I find myself questioning how much I really know about the intricacies of the Loboe and how important this information is proving. Not only is there a good chance that this will be the only low-A oboe in possibly all of Africa, but the odds of any repair person having common knowledge of Loree oboes is probably small. While I have completely devoted myself to learning all of the basic tendencies of this instrument, I still am a bit nervous about my abilities to make both the regular and unexpected repairs/adjustments that go along with any woodwind.

I will be making a long road-trip from Los Angeles to Chicago before flying to South Africa on the 17th where the Loboe will be my one allowed carry-on.  Traveling on the road across the country has been a platform for countless writers to "discover" themselves and the country; I'll settle for some meaningful realizations about how to tune that high C#!

There is much excitement in the idea of performing low-A works in such a new location and I will do whatever it takes to feel as comfortable making daily adjustments instead of just "working around them" as I have done at times... Perhaps this new commitment to learning about the repair world of oboes will result in a deeper understanding of the instrument and I will truly know the oboe.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Low-A Update - Rep List

Low-A Update - Repertoire List

I have started seriously working on Hannah Lash's piece "Silvers" for solo oboe. It's about five pages long and I have to say, I am loving working on it! It's a substantial work and she is not afraid to challenge the performer with some very quiet dynamics on some of those low A's. The solo oboe genre is a difficult one to tackle, as there are currently more jaunty, jig-like pieces than I'd care to admit...what a difference it makes when the composer writes for an instrument with respect and celebrates what it can do!

Here is an updated look at Original Works and Transcriptions for the Loboe Project:

Wolfram de Marco TBA for Solo Oboe
Paul Coleman "Coupling" for Oboe and Piano
Vera Ivanova TBA
Hannah Lash "Silvers" for Solo Oboe
Ryan Oldham TBA
David Plylar "Lobotomy" for Solo Oboe
     "The Prophecy of Dante, With Commentary By Keats" for Soprano and Mixed Ensemble
Isaac Schenkler TBA for Solo Oboe
Austin Wintory TBA for Solo Oboe

David Plylar - Trios for Oboe, Horn and Piano
     Beethoven / Liszt "Adelaide"
     Brahms "Symphony No. 3, 3rd Mvt."
     Chopin "Etude in E Minor" Op. 25, No. 5
     Saint-Saëns / Liszt "Danse Macabre"
Damjan Rakonjac  - Wind Quartet
     Chopin "Mazurka" Op. 50, No. 3

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sibelius Violin Transcriptions

The Schumann "Three Romances" are well known, and commonly performed. Every oboist, from the seventh grader to the professional, works on this piece and performs in at least one recital during their career because it is one of only a handful of quality pieces in this genre, as compared the amount of baroque works available. It is a universal piece for oboists because in terms of technique, it is accessible to most but leaves the door open for endless musical development and interpretation. 

But this post is actually not about the "Three Romances".  Sibelius offers many fantastic orchestral oboe solos but never provided solo oboe works...until now. And like the Schumann pieces, this music could be performed by both students and professionals (granted, of course, they have a Loboe...). In the more approachable category are the short works for violin and piano, Op. 78 Nos. 1-4. The first three movements are elegant yet simple. They utilize the "Low A" very well and could be easily prepared by intermediate to advanced students (as well as the pianist hired for their performance) in a few lessons. There are a few issues with the third movement, "Religios" due to some extended passages that go beyond the "Low A". However, I think it would be very interesting to experiment with the use of harmonics as a color alternative instead of simply playing the passage up the octave. How would you approach this movement, I'd be interested to hear some other ideas!

The other works are two movements from his violin show pieces, Op. 79 No. 4 and No. 5. They have moments of virtuosity but nothing that is too much of a stretch...but one must be up for a challenge!  The "Serenade" and "Tanz-Idylle" are both very short and could stand alone or as a pair. Sometimes the most impressive quality of an oboist is the perfect execution of an octave leap (check out ms. 45-46 in the Serenade!). The other movements of this set are worth a look but I found difficult to transcribe for the Loboe.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

So Many Opportunities, So Few Taken!

A fascinating interview was recently played on KUSC featuring British oboist Nicholas Daniel. In addition to being an exceptional performer and renound soloist, Daniel is also kown as an extremely ambitious promoter of new works and commissions for the oboe. Obviously my hat goes off to Daniel for being such a strong advocate for new music and transcriptions (he recently performed his transcription for English horn/piano of Debussy's "Rhapsody" for saxophone and orchestra).

During the course of the interview, an interesting bit of trivia was revealed. I was stunned to learn about the many missed opportunities of oboist Leon Goossens, one of the most significant figures in the oboe's recent history. Apparently, as Daniel explained on the radio, Goossen was very well thought of by many major composers such as Stravinsky, Janacek, Sibelius and Ravel, to name a few. This knowledge was not lost on Goossens but he never once commissioned a work for the oboe or even attempted to have one written for him. Had Goossens used his status as a well-respected oboe celebrity, he could have single-handedly influenced the amount of solo repertoire choices the oboe has today. Let it never be forgotten the responsibility that every oboist carries on their shoulders!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Transcription - Thais Meditation

It's not just for ice skating competitions anymore!

While the beautiful violin solo from Thais by Massenet is a favorite in the recital repertoire, the addition of the low-A key on the oboe renders it a perfect fit with the oboe's range. It's important to note that this piece is very adaptable without the additional key, however the violin line's decent to the "low-A" pitch means that the phrasing never has to be broken on the Loboe. The only element perhaps a bit out of the norm comes towards the very end where the second "A" above the staff is written. I'll admit that when I was asked to play the prelude at a church service last weekend, a performance time of 8:15am feels terribly early to be hitting that register...
A great solution, should one not feel up to the hitting the original pitch, is to insert a harmonic "A" instead (fingered as a low "D" with the side octave key). 
It gives the oboe an ethereal sound and I feel it is an excellent ossia option in the piece.

Thanks to the convenience of public domain downloads, the music to this piece can be found through the International Music Score Library Project website.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bach Violin Partita Transcription

This evening I began work on a transcription project that I have been interested in for years. Bach's Violin Partita No. 3 has always been among my favorites of all of the solo pieces, particularly the Prelude.  Even with the Loboe, the music extends to the G# below the staff.  Of course, I am  hardly the first person to want to tackle this music. Bach has been transcribed for every instrument imaginable.  Of course, that also means that there are many degrees of success with these versions. There are obvious issues such as articulation, phrasing, and lest we forget, breathing! But in tackling these issues, the result can be an important addition to the repertoire.

Bela Fleck, perhaps one of the world's most accomplished banjo artists, constantly challenges himself by combining virtuoso technique with a wide range of musical styles. He brings solo and ensemble music to an instrument that struggles to shed its "Deliverance" image. Among his amazing creations, Fleck embarked upon an entire "Bach Project".  Below is a short clip that includes Fleck talking about the transcription process.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Coupling" - a work for the Loboe

It's been a bit since the last update but today's post is very exciting to me. The ultimate goal of this grant is to foster collaborations that result in new works for the Loboe. Below is a live performance from our joint tour in April at the University of Fredonia's beautiful Rosch Hall.

"Coupling" - By Paul Coleman (2010)
(The link might take a few seconds to load)

This work, you'll notice, is on the short side. It is actually a fragment of a larger work that Paul Coleman intends to write. David Plylar is the pianist in the recording. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Loboe Composer Profile - Hannah Lash

Hannah LashHannah Lash is based in New York City and is one of several composers who will be working on a piece specifically for the Loboe in the coming months. We overlapped briefly while studying at the Eastman School a number of years ago and I am thrilled that we were able to reconnect again for this project.

As a versatile and active composer, her music has been performed by many leading new music artists such as the JACK Quartet and Alarm Will Sound, among others and holds a PhD in composition from Harvard University. She is currently involved in a very exciting musical endeavor of her own called the
VIOLATIONS is a piece that will be performed in any inner-city area, using a loading dock as a stage. It will be scored for singer, percussion, and live electronics. The text for this 45-50 minute piece will be a non-linear compilation of personal stories—stories from people who have committed crime and stories from people who have been the victims of crime...Performances of the piece will be entirely free and open to the public; all that is needed is a loading dock in the back of an inner-city building and an area around this loading dock large enough to allow the public to gather.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Proserpina - An Opera by Wolfgang Rihm Reviewed

It's always nice to get a positive review in the New York Times. Below is soprano Heather Buck and the orchestra, complete with our parlor chairs. I do believe that I got the best one, though it's hard to tell from the picture...
The Loboe served me well during this premiere performance, especially with the multitude of low note entrances.

...the evening belonged to Ms. Heather Buck [soprano], who sang beautifully in the plush melodies at the start and adapted expertly to increasing angularity and high-flying acrobatics as Proserpina’s plight grew dire. Mr. Schmoll’s spare production, with a set and modern-dress costumes designed by Marsha Ginsberg, provided Ms. Buck with a mostly blank slate, and she was equally compelling as a sheer stage presence, whether self-absorbed or interacting with the chorus and even the orchestra.
Mr. Rihm’s music ranges widely and ingeniously through contemporary styles and includes a sort of historical framing, as he seamlessly weaves in patches of music from Goethe’s era. The “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” appears in the orchestra at Proserpina’s line, “Your peaceful wandering, blessed ones,” and a bit of the Queen of the Night’s vocalizing from Mozart's “Zauberflöte” creeps into Proserpina’s rendering of “Through the night I will pursue him.”
As in the orchestral concert, Mr. Kennedy and the orchestra were superb advocates for Mr. Rihm’s imaginative music.

Friday, May 28, 2010

All In The Family

The Heckelphone, the 4-foot long link between the oboe and bassoon worlds, was originally designed to extend to Low-A.

Not sure you even know what a Heckelphone looks like? You're not alone, as I myself have never had the opportunity to play one.  Though it originally had a few moments of glory in various orchestral pieces and probably the best known work, a trio by Paul Hindemith, this instrument is still rather obscure. The reason being is that they are only made by special-order, expensive, and the existing instruments are often in poor condition. There are some die-hard fans out there, however.  I believe that there is an annual meeting of Heckelphone owners in New York, though the roster is probably still under 20 people total. I wish that I had more personal experience with this instrument but as with many members of our extended-double reed family, we only see them on that rare family reunion and even then, only briefly catch-up on their past highlights. 

One might also consider the Lupophon, a recent creation that is being toted as the "new bass oboe".  
Here is the description from the Lupophon's "Facebook Page".  It may be a revamped version of an oboe relic, but at least it's socially connected. I would love to try this instrument and think it is very exciting when musicians go back to the drawing board. 

Think about it; if you're an oboist, you are already playing on a period instrument. 

In early 2009, Guntram Wolf of Kronach, Germany announced a new instrument, the Lupophon. This new instrument is being called a reinvented Bass Oboe. It also has several characteristics of a Heckelphone. Let all of us Oboists, Bassoonists, and fans of this wonderful instrument come together for this amazing innovation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thumbs Up for Left Hand Thumb

Thumbs up

If these hands each had a Loboe in them, they would agree that having a Low-A key greatly increases the consistency and ease of the Low-Bb pitch... 

In the last post, I wrote about my anticipation for an upcoming Rihm rehearsal. Wolfgang Rihm's music, without fail, challenges every musician to their limits in terms of phrasing and sheer technique. While it is a frequent conclusion to jump to, contemporary composers frequently do know what they are doing, are aware of pitch ranges, and what notes are comfortable for an instrument to produce. I think they key idea here is that most composers are interested in what else a musician can do, and while a good one will attempt to write a passage in the easiest way for the performer, at the end of the day they might be asking for something that is just really hard to produce. To me, there is nothing more humbling than seeing something very, very difficult in an ensemble part and then listening to a recording of an oboist who just nails it. 

Oboists are pushing the bar ever higher, don't let yourself get left behind!

All that being said, I noticed an increased sense of ease in producing the lowest notes in the oboe's register (again, Rihm has yet to write for extended rage oboe...yet). He asks for everything dynamically from ppp to FFF, to running triplet sixteenth notes at a presto tempo, all on Low-Bb. Having studied his oboe concerto years ago, (featuring an opening passage of multiple Low-Bb's at various dynamic levels) I was amazed at the difference the Loboe made. 

Standard orchestral repertoire does not utilize the lowest oboe pitches in the same way that chamber music or solo works do. However, in a time where oboists have to wear multiple hats in order to survive, having an oboe that makes our inconsistent low range more stable is an incredible advantage no matter what type of music you find yourself playing. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Silence To Be Beaten" - Wolfgang Rihm

Wolfgang Rihm is an incredibly prolific German composer.  His chamber orchestra work "Silence to Be Beaten" is a very significant work for me, as it was upon hearing this work performed live as a freshman in college that I feel I was officially "introduced" to contemporary music.  Like most pre-college oboists, I was all things orchestra; youth orchestras, summer festival orchestras, orchestra excerpts, etc. Since the age of 11, I had been part of some orchestra or another and I saw no reason to deviate from the path once I began school. The student new music ensemble "Ossia" performed this work in 2002 and I remember being totally amazed and excited about the raw intensity, musicality and virtuosity that the piece offers. I was completely hooked and the life path of pursuing a traditional orchestra job suddenly veered in a very new, but thrilling direction.

I bring up this piece because I am currently at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston and to my surprise three days ago, learned that we will be performing this work, along with three other Rihm chamber orchestra pieces, next weekend! Though it does not exceed the traditional oboe pitch boundaries (though there are plenty of extreme dynamics in the highest register), it feels very appropriate to be rehearsing this work on the Loboe.

Since this is my plug for Rihm's music, I must also mention his brilliant oboe concerto titled "Music für oboe und Orchester".  This is a work that demands an immense amount of flexibility from the low-Bb to the second Bb above the staff.  I think it is amongst the most important new works for oboe and hope that it will start to become a staple of the literature.
Wolfgang Rihm: Musik für Oboe und Orchester; Styx und Lethe; Dritte Musik; Erster Doppelgesang

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hey There, Old Timer!

YA# 7375
Recently, an oboe colleague of mine saw the Loboe and mentioned that she "hadn't seen one of those in a long time". Yes, this particular model of oboe has been used by other oboists besides Alex Klein, though admittedly it is a very small club at the moment. The instrument offers so much in terms of a unique and full tone quality as well as the advantages in the more extreme registers. However, I believe that it is because most oboists are not using the instrument to its true potential that it has not had a larger impact on the double reed world.

Convincing oboists to think beyond the notion that "oboe music doesn't go down to low-A" proves difficult to overcome, though not impossible. For instance, I will have an audio posting of the first solo work for the Loboe, "Coupling", very soon.  I frankly think oboists need to be more proactive when it comes to our literature and should continue to seek out new opportunities and collaborations with composers and transcribers.

The oboe has constantly evolved during its long history, everything from additional notes to improvements like the left-hand F key. There is no written rule that I am aware of that says that the oboe officially, and will forever, stop at "low-Bb". One could ask "why stop at 'A', why not go down to low-G and have the same bottom range as violin?".  Good question.  I strongly feel that whatever alterations and experimentations we make on the oboe, there has to be a compelling case for it. I took a long time in deciding that the Loboe was well worth the investment of time and resources and have dedicated a large part of my musical career to its potential. The whole purpose of this blog is to document as much proof as possible as to why oboists should seriously consider this model and the possibilities that even a single half-step (plus everything else it does!) can bring to the music world. Let's not sell ourselves short!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"The Prophecy of Dante with Commentary by Keats"

This is a very small excerpt from a chamber ensemble work that was premiered on our Rochester/Fredonia tour. It is scored for solo soprano, violin, oboe, piano and two percussionists. The work is around 20 minutes long and best done with a conductor. It is very beautiful and though it contains a challenging vocal part, our amazing soloist Jamie Jordan was superb and said that it actually laid quite well for the voice. You can click here to see score samples.  

What is so interesting about this piece is that the commentary is never sung and instead can be found as part of a program note supplement. In terms of its use of the Loboe, it extends to the lowest range about three times during the piece. During our open rehearsal in Rochester, one of Eastman's composition faculty happened to be sitting directly across from me.  As we played through the above passage, he immediately smiled and looked over my way; his first time hearing an oboe's low A! 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Proper Glue Duo / Out of Context Tour

We returned to Los Angeles this week after having performed with some simply outstanding musicians in NY. Last week was also the premier of what is most likely the first solo work written specifically for the extended-range oboe (it cannot be performed without the extension) called "Coupling" by Paul Coleman.
The concert involved nine musicians, our largest amount yet!
Here is a look at our tour in pictures:

Sunday, April 25th - 
Rehearsals at Messinger Hall

We had three days together to assemble 11 pieces.



Monday, April 26th -

Mayer Hardware -"Wrenchophone"!

We had a fantastic crowd at our first event. Mayer Hardware store is something of a Rochester "hang" and they could not have been more helpful and supportive of our event. Composers Paul and David talked about their pieces and their use of "classical wrench technique". Steve and Melanie performed two very difficult pieces with ease and enjoyed demonstrating to the crowd how the instrument worked.



Christ Church Concert - 8pm

Rochester, NY

Despite a very popular Gamelan concert happening at the same as our concert at Eastman, we had a great turn out. The concert itself followed a "mirror" format in terms of the program and ran just over two hours. Some very special audience members included my former oboe teacher, Mr. Killmer, as well as some of the current Eastman oboe studio!
Christ Church, in Rochester, New York, is a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. This Greek Revival church was built in 1894 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Located at 141 East Avenue, services at Christ Church are always open to the public.

Tuesday, April 27th - Fredonia

Valu Home Center

Our second hardware store performance was in Fredonia, NY.

It's always nice to have more than one shot for any kind of performance!



SUNY Fredonia Concert - 8pm

In addition to our concert, we gave a new music forum and fielded some questions about performing in today's economy and a pre-concert lecture. This hall is simply spectacular and reminded many of us of Carnegie's Zankel Hall.  I can't wait for the audio recording! A quick shout out to Rob Deemer and the Ethos New Music Society for all of their dedication and assistance!

Friday, April 23, 2010

So Many Fingerings, So Little Time

Rehearsals have begun in Rochester, NY for the large ensemble pieces that feature the "low A" (works by composers Paul Coleman and David Plylar).  It has been fascinating implementing this note in original works.  However, while the extra note might seem as straight-forward as pushing down a single key, there is more to the story.

Oboists and bassoonists are faced with split-second decisions every day when reading music as to which "fingering" to use for certain pitches, most notably for oboists being the use of left-hand F and left Eb keys. As with many instruments, some pitches can have multiple approaches depending on what proceeds or follows them. Not knowing ahead of time which fingering to use is a very common cause of "flubs" or mistakes when sight-reading and even performing a piece. A wrong move can result in additional notes being played as a result of fingers sliding over keys. The "low-A" fingering requires the oboist to press down the left thumb as well as their choice of the standard fingerings for "low C#", "low C", "low B" or "low Bb". All fingerings produce the same "low A" pitch. As I am rehearsing this music, I am discovering that it is essential for me to write in whichever fingering pitch that is most appropriate for the passage, as trying to "slide" over to the correct one mid-note can be very unforgiving. While I likely do not mark in as many left-handed fingerings for notes now as when I first discovered these keys, I certainly still use them as a reference in music today

Visually, seeing a "low A" in music has a different feel as an oboist. For many years now, I have only rarely seen an "A#" notated.  I would imagine for most instrumentalists that seeing a note, even as little as one half-step out of their normal range, mentally takes just a fraction longer to compute. If in that slight bit of time we also are indecisive about which fingering is correct, a "slide" is almost certain to occur. Fortunately, with the aid of some foresight and a pencil, this problem is easily remedied.

The writing for this instrument feels completely natural in the music and I am thrilled to be working with such exceptionally talented musicians.  Rochester, home of monster snow storms and a perpetually grey sky, is actually in full bloom right now and couldn't be lovelier. Things are shaping up for some great performances.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So many A's, so little time

Showing the Loboe to another oboist recently got me to thinking more about the oboe's relationship to "A". Besides many important solos that highlight "A" pitches, the most obvious association with this pitch comes from the tuning note traditionally given before every orchestra concert. Scholar and oboist Bruce Haynes has dedicated an incredibly interesting book on the subject called "A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of "A"'.

The fact that the Loboe gives us an additional "A" is significant. The more time I spend with this oboe, the more I am convinced that this is the natural next step for the instrument.

Oboists who has spent any time at all studying orchestral excerpts or taking orchestral auditions know all too well how critical our octave "A"s are in winning a job. While one should obviously strive to play every note beautifully, of the standard excerpts, several come to mind that demand some very special attention to these pitches.

Brahms composed one of the most beautiful violin concertos but for oboists, this piece instantly conjurers up feelings of dread when achieving that perfect entrance on the octave "A". The music below doesn't reflect the two bars of horn chord intro, as the oboe doesn't technically begin the second movement. This melody is then picked up by the solo violin.  As an excerpt, it is considered one of the most common and usually makes it way on every orchestra audition list.

Speaking of entrance "A"s that make or break a solo, I think that Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, third movement solo is worth noting. The oboist rests for the movement's opening 132 bars as the strings work their way through intense pizzicato passages. The bottom literally drops out at the hight of the string climax when the solo oboe enters with a glorious (and loud) octave "A" that needs to just fill the hall, or the audition room. It is a very assertive entrance and demands a very distinct tone color that is a world away from the delicate entrance of the Brahms. 

Tchaikovsky: Sym. No. 4, Mvt. III

Another staple of any audition list is the opening of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin". Here we again find a very different demand of the "A". The name of the game is precision; there are "A"s on every large beat in the first three bars alone. This excerpt is certainly on the quick side, but it is the thoughtful approach to the "A"s that allows for the real musicality to shine through in this solo. 

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin, Mvt. I

There are countless beautiful and important oboe solos and many of them do not start or significantly highlight the pitch "A". However, as any current or former music conservatory student can tell you, there are a handful of standard audition excerpts that can quite literally define one's career in the orchestral world. Among them, the three excerpts I have looked at above demand very different techniques and approaches from the oboist and are a core part of an oboist's training. Who knows if having an additional "A" would have had an impact on the way composers wrote for the oboe. However, one thing is certain; the relationship between the oboe and "A" is one unlike any other. With the addition of a third "A", it is exciting to think of the possibilities!