Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Brahms...for Wind Quintet?

This week I am very proud to present a live performance of one of the greatest Romantic chamber works, the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in g minor, op. 25 - for wind quintet and piano! Impeccably transcribed by composer David Plylar, this iconic work of the string chamber repertoire works incredibly well for winds, leaving the piano part unchanged. As anyone who has played in a wind group knows, convincing a pianist to learn something beyond the Mozart and Beethoven quintets, and if you are especially lucky the Poulenc sextet, tends to be next to impossible. And not without reason; we simply do not have the repertoire that string players do and their works happen to be some of the greatest written in general, especially Romantic music. As much we believe that our parts are difficult, the pianist will always have the most labor-intensive music to learn and probably will not have opportunities to perform the said work again like they will for standard repertoire. 

This transcription is done with such reverence for the music of Brahms, as it brings out inner lines and harmonies through the expanded color pallet of the wind instruments. My quintet, District5, had a wonderful time working with our pianist, Dr. Mayron Tsong, a faculty member at the University of Maryland. To collaborate on music of this level was a very rewarding experience and challenged everyone to truly embrace every aspect of this piece. 

The Loboe also makes a wonderful addition to this work. In movement I, at 3:38, the Loboe and clarinet have the unison melodic line, the lowest pitch being the A3. It is a subtle inclusion, but one that is very supportive of the music by not having to have a voice drop out at that pivotal point.

Needless to say, the wind quintet can consider this transcription an olive-branch from the pedestal of iconic Romantic chamber music; winds can not only make an attempt at this kind of music, but through an exceptional transcription, honor the music of Brahms by bringing out new elements of his masterful chamber music.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Composer Profile - Alexandra Fol

One of the most enjoyable aspects about the Loboe Project is the anticipation of new works! There are several original compositions and transcriptions in various states of progress at the moment, all of which should result in excellent pieces. Today's feature is about composer Alexandra Fol who is currently writing a work for Loboe and piano.

I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra while studying at the Eastman School of Music in 2002. Her enthusiasm for new works was contagious; she championed the music of her fellow composers as if they were her own. Her dedication to contemporary music was obvious but her skill set was not limited to composition. As a talented church organist and conductor, she is able to bring a very unique perspective to her work as a composer. Since our overlapping time at Eastman, she has continued to have a distinguished career and currently resides in Montreal. Needless to say, I greatly await the completion of her Loboe Project piece! 

Alexandra Fol is a Bulgarian composer and organist and has composed more than 50 works in different mediums. Fol's "Two Songs for Voice and Orchestra" were performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestras and her Concerto for Violin was premiered with the Boston University Orchestra. In 2005, Fol was one of four composers commissioned to write a children's work for the 70th anniversary of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra's Children Series. "Pegasus", Op. 37, was performed during the 2005-06 Montreal Symphony Orchestra's Children's Series and included an educational CD. Fol's commissions include chamber music premiered at Carnegie Hall, two short film scores, a work for the McGill University Orchestra, choir works, a piece for the orkestr de ereprijs in the Netherlands, corporate commissions, etc. Her works have been played by the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Young Artists Orchestra. Fol was a finalist for the 2006 Gaudeamus Prize in composition and a 2007 Tanglewood Music Center composition fellow. Born in Sofia, she studied composition at Boston University, the Eastman School of Music and McGill University where she earned her Doctorate. She currently works as an organist at Missione Maria Ausiliatrice. 

You can learn more about Alexandra by visiting her blog.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Loboe Project - Video Recordings

The following two works were premiered at the 2013 IDRS convention - I recorded them in October and feel that both works truly embrace the full artistic and technical range of the extended-range oboe. It is an honor to have them in the Loboe Project collection!

"Lobotomy" by David Plylar

"South View" by Clare Loveday

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. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Clare Loveday - Composer Profile

One of the most rewarding parts of working in South Africa was the realization that there is a small but very dedicated contemporary music movement that includes many extremely talented individuals. The new music reading sessions that occurred with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra every few months enabled my husband and I to not only meet many wonderful composers, but to then hear their latest works read on the same day. On one such occasion, we met Clare Loveday, a passionate and diverse composer with a strong background in wind writing (such a rarity!). Clare is very representative of the composers in South Africa; they are extremely committed to developing the new music scene within the country and work tirelessly together with other musicians and academic institutions. One often finds this same group of people behind most of the major new music festivals, concerts and events and it truly shows just how dedicated they are to the promotion contemporary works. 

I will have the honor of performing Clare's new work for solo Loboe this June at the 2013 International Double Reed Society Conference at the University of Redlands. This will be a short recital of solo pieces written specifically for the Loboe Project. Thanks to the conveniences of the internet, we have been able to work together despite the large distance that separates us; I am very excited about this beautiful work and am looking forward to performing it in the next few months!

Be sure to visit Clare’s website to learn more about her amazing musical journey and accomplishments! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Doubler's Take on the Loboe

Joseph Tomasso is a musician who exemplifies talent and patience; he is an accomplished woodwind specialist and also a friend from my high school district-band days. Specializing in all of the wind instruments, including the saxophone family, this demanding career presents one with the unparalleled challenge of countless reeds. Despite his busy schedule, he was nice enough to share his thoughts during a recent purchase of a new oboe. Oboists are frequently loyal to their brand of instrument and it is refreshing to see someone explore multiple instrument maker choices; Joseph outlined his quest to find the best oboe for his doubling career which included the Loboe.

Below are his thoughts comparing instruments; I am most appreciative for his time and expertise. While he did not ultimately go with the Loboe for his needs, he made the right choice for his career needs so I won’t hold that against him! 
Be sure to check out his website to learn more about his incredible career!

The lower register was really "free" without being "flexible" - it might be because I am a doubler, but as a saxophonist generally if there is not enough resistance the tone goes crazy in the low register of the saxophone. This [Loboe] had a great mix of comfort and power, without losing any sense of tone. It was really remarkable in the low register.

The extreme high register was also really excellent. I am not sure if it was because the bottom joint adds a little extra wood to vibrate, but the F and above spoke cleanly with standard and short cut fingers. I preferred to use the back octave as the third octave was a bit sharp (but that could be because I am a saxophonist and have a tendency to bite the notes out) or maybe the vent was opening too much or too little.

The short version is really that the problem with [the Loboe] had nothing to do with the lower register, but everything to do with the left hand notes. A, B, C were very hard to play with any sense of focus/tune (they were oddly sharp and I'm not sure how to compensate for that because my older marigaux 901 was flat on b and c). When I switched the top joint, oddly enough, the instrument was really gorgeous (even though it looked hideous with a grenadilla top and violetwood bottom). The problem there was that the top joint was from different horn and of course was not set up to play the low A the right way (which was sort of sad because low makes everything more exciting).

I actually found this instrument to project very well, more so than the Howarth XL in cocobolo that I tried (which was also a very nice instrument). I just wish the pitch center was more stable! One other really cool thing about the low A was how easy B and Bb seemed to be in comparison. There is something really pretty about the 2nd to lowest note on oboe. I tried to pick the best oboe for someone who plays oboe every day, but maybe isn't trying to be in a major symphony.

I ended up picking the Buffet Orfeo (In green line) because it had a really covered/dark sound (very similar to the Laubin I tried) but also an extremely even scale (more even than the Yamaha Duet+ I tried as well). It does not offer quite as ... sparkly or shining of a tone, but I think I can try and alter my reeds a bit to get the instrument to sing. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Case For Music

Tonight was one of countless Nutcracker performances taking place across the country. Considering the magnitude of the Connecticut school tragedy today, one might ponder the appropriateness of going to a lavish ballet production when so many are dealing with unimaginable pain.  

But tonight provided a chance for a theater filled almost completely with parents to escape for a few hours. The unique atmosphere created by having live musicians, as opposed to a recording, is something incredibly special and something only live ballet can provide. I think we were able to help transport parents and their kids to a very different world, one literally as far away from reality as possible. If only for an evening, this ballet that depicts fantasy and frills took on an especially important role.  In the midst of the unthinkable, thank goodness for live music.