Oboe Quartet at Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

The Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland was the venue for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival performance of my Oboe Quartet this week. Commissioned by Winsor Music, and its Artistic Director, oboist Peggy Pearson, the piece received its fourth performance, the first three having been given by Peggy and members of the Apple Hill Quartet this past spring.

This time it was not members of a particular string quartet that played, but rather an all-star group put together for the occasion: Robin Scott, the newly appointed first violin of the Ying Quartet; Steven Tenenbom, violist of the Orion Quartet; and Marcy Rosen, who was cellist of the Mendelssohn Quartet for 31 years. I was delighted by the group’s superb performance. For example, the fourth movement of the piece is lyrical, but with the principal line frequently passed from player to player. It was impressive to see in rehearsal how readily these players intuited when to come forward and when to pull back, creating a finely crafted web of song.

Here’s a picture of the Deco-ish interior of the Avalon Theater in Easton where one of our rehearsals took place:

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And here is a shot from the sound check before the performance, this at the Academy Museum of Art:

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The festival schedule is packed with elite players performing both standard and lesser-known repertoire. Heartfelt thanks for Marcy Rosen and J. Lawrie Bloom, Artistic Directors of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, for giving me a chance to share my music with such wonderful players, and with an appreciative audience.

Three Performances in New England

I’m back now from hearing two performances of my Oboe Quartet as well as one of a choral piece at locations in Boston and New Hampshire.

Spring is finally evident at Boston’s Public Garden:

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That shot was taken on Saturday morning before I strolled over to Emmanuel Church:

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where I attended a rehearsal of my motet One With the Darkness, One With the Light. Ryan Turner conducted this short piece, scored for treble voices only. (Sorry, I don’t have everyone’s name!)

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Later that day I was in Peterborough, New Hampshire to hear Peggy Pearson, oboe, and the Apple Hill String Quartet (Elisa Kuder and Colleen Jennings, violins; Michael Kelley, viola; and Rupert Thompson, cello) play Haydn, Brahms, and my new Oboe Quartet, a Winsor Music commission. The performance was in Bass Hall, a handsome room in the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. (More about their playing below, in connection with their Brookline performance.) I visited a park a short walk from the center while waiting for my takeout dinner from the Peterborough Diner (I recommend the onion rings).

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The motet went very well the next morning at Emmanuel. The performances there are consistently strong, but in this case the brevity of the piece and the use of just the treble voices yielded an exceptionally focussed and detailed performance. By a curious bit of synchronicity, the sermon preached by Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew made mention of Wendell Berry, a reference Rev. Grew told me later was written in without him knowing that my motet setting a Berry text would be heard that morning. (photo: Elizabeth Richardson)

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Spring – and the Easter season –  was making itself felt inside Emmanuel, in the form of huge paper or maybe fabric flowers suspended over the nave:

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It was nice to see John Harbison at the service (photo: Elizabeth Richardson):

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There was a full house at St. Paul’s in Brookline for a reprise of the previous night’s concert, the last in the Winsor Music Chamber Series for the season. The Haydn was a transcription of Symphony No. 97 that included oboe with the quartet. I thought the arrangement worked well, and especially enjoyed the warm, fluent bass playing of Lawrence Wolfe, who was not at the NH performance. This was now the third time out for these players in my new quartet, and though they sounded great at the premiere, now they had even greater command of the piece. It was a passionate performance, well-received by an audience that filled the church. After intermission there was one of Winsor Music’s “Song for the Spirit” commissions, a brief hymn-like setting of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” composed by Eric Nathan, and intended for audience participation, though mezzo Katie Hoyer’s demonstration of the tune was so lovely that it might have made a few of the listeners hesitate to add their voices on the second go-around. The Brahms Quartet in A minor closed the program, in a performance memorable for its long sweeping lines and elegantly shaped details. Here’s a picture from the reception after the concert (L to R: Mike Kelley, Elise Kuder, myself, Peggy Pearson, Rupert Thompson, Colleen Jennings):

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The next morning there was a cardinal outside my window, waiting to say goodbye:

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I’ll be hearing Peggy do the quartet again on June 18, this time with a different group of string players, at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

Oboe Quartet in Newburyport

Peggy Pearson and members of the Apple Hill Quartet gave the first performance of my new Oboe Quartet in Newburyport, Massachusetts this past Sunday, and Mark DeVoto reviewed the concert for the Boston Musical Intelligencer. A “csárdás with bebop chords underneath” is a memorable phrase and even more insightful than Mark might think, given the number of wedding receptions with a central European flavor I played during my student days in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, affairs at which my desire to be playing jazz had to be repressed while we performed the ethnic dance numbers that were expected of us. I’m not too sure I hear the Hungarian aspect of my quartet, but the bebop is definitely there. You can hear the piece in Peterborough, New Hampshire on April 25, and in Brookline, MA on April 26.

Finish Line in Sight

Finish LineI have almost finished the oboe quartet I am doing for Peggy Pearson and members of the Apple Hill Quartet: Elisa Kuder, Michael Kelley, and Rupert Thompson. Go to the performances page for a listing of when they will be doing the piece this spring. An additional performance, this time with Catherine Cho, Steve Tenenbom, and Marcy Rosen joining Peggy, has recently been scheduled for this June 18 at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

The piece is working out to be in five movements, tentatively headed as follows, with some comments on the music:
I. Moderato – lyrical, oboe takes the lead
II. Allegro con fuoco – terse, sometimes ferocious
III. Passacaglia: Adagio – harmonically the darkest movement of the set, the textures here are mostly spare and contrapuntal
IV. Moderato e fluente – lyrical again, but with the melodic burden shared more equally, and with a more polyphonic texture.
V. Moderato; Allegro giocoso – an introduction recalls the first movement, followed by a playful main section that hints at some jazz and rock idioms.

Back to work!

Black Friday Miscellany

– Ethan Iverson is playing a benefit in Willow Grove PA this Saturday – information here.

– Peggy Pearson recalls her late colleague Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. I’m at work on an oboe quartet for Peggy.

– Sharon Browning (of JUST Listening) will present an Advent retreat, Fasting from Frenzy: Making Room for Divinity at Cranaleith Spiritual Center in Philadelphia on Saturday, December 13, from 10 to 3. More information here.

Shadow Memory

UnknownIt’s so typical: I’ve got a commission and a due date for an oboe quartet, to be premiered by the superb Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music next April 26. I’ve got a decent start on that piece. But instead of staying focused on the quartet, a different project has been commanding my attention lately, one without a commission or due date. This is a little song on a text by Susan Orlean, pictured at left. She is the best-selling author of Rin Tin TinThe Orchid Thief, Saturday Night, and My Kind of Place, among other books, as well as being a staff writer for the New Yorker, and an avid Twitterer. Her short essay, “Shadow Memory”, anthologized in My Kind of Place, was originally a contribution to a book called Flowers in Shadow: A Photographer Discovers a Victorian Botanical Journal. I chose just the last paragraph of this piece. It is a beautifully crafted single sentence that speaks of “the little shadow each of us casts”. In my setting I’ve tried to capture the bittersweet flavor of the excerpt, which is carefully balanced between remembering and forgetting, between that which will “stay fresh forever, or forever slip away.”

No premiere has been set for the song yet, but I am in conversations about setting something up. The song just needs a little more polishing, and then it will be back to the oboe quartet, as well as a little piece for the Dolce Suono concert on January 18.

Upcoming Events

The performances page has been updated, with dates now in place for spring concerts by Peggy Pearson/Winsor Music, and the Philadelphia Sinfonia. A few more events will likely flesh out the schedule a bit, including a possible performance of the Piano Quintet at Penn, and a revival of a motet at Emmanuel Church. I’ll also be participating in an Exquisite Corpse project for Network for New Music, but more about that in another post.

Back to School Miscellany

Labor Day has yet to happen, but I was back at my day job today. I have some more substantive posts planned, but you will have to make do with a few  links for the moment:

– One of my current composition projects is to write an oboe quartet for Peggy Pearson on a commission from Winsor Music. The premiere is planned for the fall of 2014. Winsor has a handsome new website, with information about their concerts as well as some intriguing and uncommon projects, like their relationship with Project STEP and their Songs for the Spirit hymnal-in-progress.

– Go here to read Stephen Sondheim’s acceptance speech at this year’s MacDowell Medal Day; there are also links to remarks by Michael Chabon and Frank Rich.

– Season announcements are being flung over the digital transom. Go here for Orchestra 2001 (highlights include a Gunther Schuller premiere and Richard Wernick’s Kaddish-Requiem); here for Network for New Music (including a 2-concert Harbison festival with premieres by the guest of honor and five more composers – I’m working on something for that); and here for Songfusion (opening with more Harbison, including a program at Small’s jazz club featuring Mary Mackenzie – who will be doing a program at Penn on October 23.)

Upcoming In New York, Philly, Boston

– Lots happening for Stacy Garrop this month, including premiere performances by the SUNY Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players at Stony Brook (Nov. 10) and in NYC at Symphony Space (Nov. 11).

Michael Gordon‘s remarkable Timber (written about previously here, with a link to video) will be played by Mantra Percussion at the Crane Arts Center in Philadelphia on Friday November 11 at 8:00. The evening-length work is scored for 6 2X4s – talk about Music for Pieces of Wood!

– Music of Stephen Hartke is featured on the next Cantata Singers concert, Friday. November 4. in Boston’s Jordan Hall. The sublime oboist Peggy Pearson is soloist.

Thursday night datebook

Events: very soon, soon, and not so soon:

Bowerbird presents Eliane Radigue’s complete Naldjorlak cycle at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street in Philadelphia, 8 pm, Friday, September 24.

Orchestra 2001 offers two works by Osvaldo Golijov, plus Enoch Arden by Richard Strauss, with Marina Sirtis as narrator; September 24 at Trinity Center, September 26 at Swarthmore College.

– Oboe goddess Peggy Pearson plays the Boston premiere of Stephen Jaffe’s Chamber Concerto “Singing Figures” at the first Winsor Music concert of the season. Sunday, October 3 at St. Paul’s Church, Brookline, 7:00 PM. (Check out the fine recording of the piece on Bridge.)

UPDATE: I just received an e-mail reporting that the October 3 Winsor Music  concert is cancelled, due to “an injury to a performer. She will be OK, but could not manage this week’s schedule of rehearsals. We regret any inconvenience caused by this cancellation.”

– Mimi Stillman’s Dolce Suono Ensemble premieres a new Richard Danielpour trio on October 22 at Trinity Center in Philadelphia. Read here (scroll down) about the group’s Mahler/Schoenberg project, coming next spring, and including commissioned works by Steven Stucky, Steven Mackey, Fang Man, David Ludwig, and Stratis Minakakis.

21st Century Consort offers Barber, Copland, Jon Deak, Jordan Kuspa, and Mark Kuss at its season opener, October 23, Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC.