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)

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