Quintet for oboe, strings and piano with Winsor Music

The third of the three performances coming up for me in and around Boston this coming Sunday, October 15, will be Winsor Music’s program at St. Paul’s in Brookline (pictured) at 7 pm. The piece is scored for oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano – sort of a piano quintet, but with oboe instead of one of the violins. It was premiered last summer at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival. Peggy Pearson, who requested the piece, will be the oboist, with Winsor Co-Artistic Director Gabriela Diaz, violin; Mark Berger, viola; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; and Sally Pinkas, piano. It will be wonderful to work with these splendid players, some of whom I have known for a long time. The fabulous Peggy Pearson first played my music when I wrote Matins for her, a work for oboe, strings and chorus that was premiered by Cantata Singers back in 2003, with David Hoose conducting. (It’s David who will conduct the premiere of my new song cycle, A Sibyl, with Collage New Music and soprano Mary Mackenzie earlier in the day on the 15th.) Peggy later commissioned and premiered my Oboe Quartet with Winsor Music – you can hear the result by going here and scrolling down. (The strings in that recording are members of the Apple Hill Quartet; the score is available for online perusal here.) I met Sally many years ago when we both played on a concert, the exact location of which I no longer recall, though I think it was in the Boston area. I do remember that I played a work by the superb Israeli composer Yinam Leef. Years later I had contact with Sally and her husband Evan Hirsch when Penn presented them playing George Rochberg’s huge cycle for two pianos called Circles of Fire. Sally never had a chance to play my music until now, and I am delighted that she has taken on this piece. I’ve heard Gabby Diaz and Rafael Popper-Keizer perform with Emmanuel Music, and Rafael tells me he played my Four Sacred Songs a number of years ago, though I missed that performance. Mark Berger is new to me; he joined the Lydian Quartet in 2014. In short, it’s an all-star group!

Here’s a program listing and note on the Quintet:

I. Variations
II. Dirge
III. Poem (after Kathleen Norris)
IV. Signals and Dances

The variations of the first movement of my Quintet are not on a melody but on a chord progression first proposed by the strings and piano. Four variations and a coda follow, increasingly rapid in their surface. Next come two slow movements, the first very dark, marked “wailing” at its climax; the second consoling, inspired by a poem by Kathleen Norris called “Who Do You Say That I Am?” that offers increasingly ecstatic responses to the Biblical question. The finale opens with a raucous call to attention, and the various dances that follow are sometimes bluesy and sometimes folk-like. Late in the game, some fragments of the previous movements unexpectedly return, and what was left open at the end of the first movement now finds affirmation.

With her request for this piece, Peggy Pearson granted me a third opportunity to write for her profoundly eloquent oboe, this time alongside the comparably gifted voices of her colleagues in La Fenice. I am deeply grateful.

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