Monday, January 25, 2010

Uncharted Waters

Excerpts from the definitive instrument book 
"The Oboe" by Geoffrey Burgess and Bruce Haynes, 2004
 "Around 1995 Lorée produced a small number of oboes extending to low A. This was on the recommendation of Alex Klein, who sought an instrument that would allow oboists to play Schubert 'Arpeggione Sonata', *but as of yet it does not appear to have been scored for by any composers". p. 343

*That will soon be changing....

One argument against the practicality of a low-A oboe, and certainly not a totally unfounded one, is simply that composers don't write for that note; there is no music to play.  At the moment, yes, we are limited to transcriptions for this oboe, though the realm of possibilities this opens up alone is staggering. However, I am currently working with several composers to produce original works specifically for this oboe. 

The more information about what is possible on the oboe that we reveal to composers, the sooner they will push, if not obliterate, the very boundaries that we give them.  There will always be instances of composers challenging oboists with demands that reflect a lack of basic knowledge or understanding of how the instrument works. However, seeing past that, it is the combination of composers pushing the envelope and performers embracing the challenges that have resulted in countless important works that might not have otherwise been written. There is a certain openness that we can demonstrate as champions of our instrument that will encourage composers to take oboe music to the next level; we simply need to keep informing them of what we can do and challenge ourselves in the process.  It never ceases to amaze me that some of the most iconic pieces in our repertoire, like the Strauss Oboe Concerto, is studied and performed by increasingly younger students, and the Berio Sequenza has become a regular part of the international competition scene.

Perhaps the low-A oboe is only beginning its long journey into general acceptance, both by oboists and instrument makers alike. Until then, I can at least rest assured that there are some incredible oboe pieces in the works.  

"...the oboe eventually made its mark on the avant-garde scene in the 1970s through the exploits of prominent players - Lothar Faber, Han de Vries, Lawrence Singer and, above all, Heinz Holliger. While composers needed to consult oboists on the new extended techniques, the pushing of the performer beyond the possible became an aesthetic imperative. For the first time in history of the oboe, there was a disparity between instrument design and use. Composeres knowingly expected the impossible and wrote intentionally at the limit of existing technique - and beyond. Avant-garde performance practice, like that of any style, is integrally connected to the instrument for which it was conveived". (p. 268)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Loree Day in LA

RDG Woodwinds presents
the Los Angeles Philharmonic oboe section
and current Loree Factory Director, Alain de Gourdon

Today oboists from all around Southern California braved what the news channel called "biblical levels of rain" to attend a special event hosted by the double reed store RDG Woodwinds. A series of four master classes took place, each one run by a member of the LA Philharmonic oboe section followed by a recital.

While a previous recording engagement delayed my arrival, I was able to attend the event that interested me the most; a forum held by current Loree Factory Director, Alain de Gourdon. Being a lifetime user of Loree instruments, I was thrilled to finally meet the "man behind the curtain", so to speak. The room of oboists sat riveted to Gourdon's charming French accent as he guided us through Loree's incredible 129 year history. The factory is still family run after many generations and has a regular staff of 35 people, resulting in about 1,300 instruments made each year. Gourdon put to rest concerns that the special wood used to make most oboes, grenadilla, was in danger of being over-harvested from its native Mozambique and Tanzania. It turns out that the trees are actually protected, with new trees being planted for every one cut down, and very few people besides oboe and clarinet makers have any interest in using it anyway!

While "Paris" is a fixed part of the Loree logo, France proves to be the hardest sell for the company. Gourdon explained that his oboe has a perception of being "the oboe for Americans" in France; how unfortunate that such philosophies still persist.

But what does he think of the "low-A" model...?!

I had a chance to ask the master myself after the forum. He was very happy to learn that I played on this model and was curious if I required very different reeds than for a regular model (the answer for me is not really, a quality reed goes a long way). I had a brief chance to tell him about how much I enjoyed the oboe as well as my excitement about new transcriptions and works. While it seems he likes this model very much, he did say that it is intended for professionals and therefore does not sell a large amount at this time and isn't concerned about that. This is perhaps one area where I feel a bit differently; I strongly believe that the low-A model deserves more visibility and exposure to allow customers the option of this extension at both the serious student and professional levels. I myself had to go to great lengths to even see this model in person and the instruments are currently only made-to-order at the factory. Maybe through these upcoming performances I can start to get the word out that one doesn't need to be principal oboist of a major symphony to have a reason to invest in this oboe; students and professionals alike deserve access to more quality repertoire through transcriptions and new works and having the low-A extension provides that.