Thursday, July 11, 2013

International Double Reed Conference - 2013

At some point in nearly every oboist and bassoonist's life, they make the important pilgrimage to an IDRS conference which are held annually in different cities across the world. Only there can we let our guard down and discuss the differences between dry gougers and regular ones, the latest shaper tips and try new instruments for hours on end. It is an amazing collection of over-achieving high school students (we've all been there), college students, professionals and the "legends" of the trade. There is a seemingly endless list of concerts, master classes, competitions, lecture recitals and ensemble performances; I was thrilled to finally contribute to this double-reed tradition!

In a short recital, I gave two world premieres and one US premiere of solo works written for the extended-range oboe. Each work celebrated the unique attributes of the instrument, from consistent use of the "low-A" itself to techniques such as over-blowing, flutter-tongue, multi-phonics. Certainly the use of these techniques is hardly new at the IDRS convention, but it was showcasing these elements in the context of the "low-A" that made this performance what it was.

The first work was Silvers by Hannah Lash, a beautiful work that makes very demanding dynamic challenges in the lowest register. Claire Loveday's South View is an elegant work that takes some inspiration from South African musical traditions. I simply adore the distinct rhythmic section towards the end along with the very elegant lyric passages. Both works are very well executed in terms of giving the performer time to breathe (or in reality, recover) and are each about six minutes in duration.

The final work was David Plylar's Lōbotomy, a virtuosic tour-de-force that while absolutely playable, demanded some substantial endurance, both physically and mentally. A common concern with the "Loboe" is that the instrument is simply too heavy and taxing on the wrist/thumb to play for long periods. The IDRS recital was easily the most concentrated 24 minutes of playing I have ever attempted and while the performer's height and general wrist strength will always be a variable, I can honestly say that the weight of the instrument was not an issue for me. Honestly, keeping focus mentally was by far the greatest hurtle to overcome as the Plylar work is over eleven minutes of straight music with only very short breathes between sections. Of course, it is this extra demand of focus and endurance that gives the piece the incredible energy and excitement that it has. Not fearing any territory on the instrument, the "Loboe" is allowed to showcase its abilities to the fullest. All three works had such sharply contrasting characters and overall moods, yet each created a sound world that was totally unique and well-written for the oboe. To have this chance to perform "low-A" works in front of a crowd of double-reed players was truly wonderful (if not a bit intimidating!) and I am thankful for the opportunity.

Mr. Killmer and me as I search for a practice room

Myself, composer David Plylar, oboist John Rojas and his wife

Sandy and Bob Morgan after the concert                              

In true oboe fashion, some of my previous teachers came to support me including Mr. Richard Killmer and Mr. David Weiss! I also caught up with my high school teacher, Mr. Robert Morgan, at the convention hall along with the fantastic staff of RDG Woodwinds from Los Angeles. Perhaps the biggest surprise was running into oboist John Rojas, a USC alum and a regular sub with my old orchestra in South Africa! He is a long-time resident of Cape Town but is originally from California. With every turn one seems to run into someone familiar and for a few days, it feels a bit like being back in college where there is that constant feeling of musical exploration and general oboe excitement. A much anticipated moment for me was after the concert and took place in the convention center. Any instrument maker who can ship their instruments creates beautiful displays of oboes and bassoons. While it is always a pleasure to try out new brands, much excitement was being generated from a back room. Here the display looked more like a Tim Burton-style instrument workshop than a typical double-reed display. The Lupophon, developed by Guntrom Wolf, was the crowning achievement in a room full of gorgeous, if not often strange, instruments. I have already dedicated a whole blog entry about this instrument and I am happy to say, it did not disappoint in real life! I think every oboist yearns for that ability to play really low and with some power, not to mention it is just a fantastic looking creation. The learning-curve for the additional fingerings does not seem like it would be terribly long and the reed feels like a cross between a bassoon and a regular bass oboe reed (at least I think it does, its been a few years since I have played the traditional bass oboe!). Alas, despite the appeal, sound and general greatness of this instrument, its current price range is a bit out of most players' budget (as in none have been sold in the US yet). Perhaps the difficulty in obtaining one only adds to the allure! 
While my time at the conference was brief, I enjoyed every minute of it and would highly suggest attending one. Playing works written for the "Loboe" by such talented composers was an honor and I hope to perform them all again sometime soon. These works proved that the possibilities of the "Low-A" oboe are really just beginning to be explored.