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!