Many of my richest and most memorable musical experiences have occurred not in the concert hall or the opera house, but rather in smaller performance spaces (or even in a large living room) watching a few people in an advanced mode of non-verbal communication convey and interpret this or that profound musical utterance. Chamber music can be pure magic, and the human scale of the medium and the environment have often made—for me, in the best cases—an experience bordering on the ecstatic.
Composers who seem to shine with similar brilliance in both micro- and macro-theatres occur with astounding rarity (to me, anyway); perhaps as composers, we each come with a differently-sized internal megaphone. Someone whom I have always admired for his inspired (and seemingly intuitive) answers to the problem of musical scope, W. A. Mozart, had no problems getting his music to fit the room.
The ideas that grew out of my conversations with Marc Neikrug and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival began as a tabula rasa—a great but tough commission to start work on (if I can really do anything, what do I really want to do?). I began to settle on one of my personal favorite sounds in chamber music: the solo oboe (I couldn’t tell anyone why), and my mind went toward Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, K. 370. I adore the work’s subtle, intimate choreography, and have often pondered the chameleonic role of the oboe, whose responsibilities as soloist are by definition more conciliatory than if it were paired with orchestra. I can’t say that I intend to (or would dare to) replicate anything about his work in a specific way, but as has been the case with Mozart’s music before, I found that revisiting K. 370 has been a natural way to unlock the vault of my ideas about subtle choreographies, conciliation, and the flexibility that great chamber musicians possess.
My Quartet for Oboe and Strings, in one movement, is also concerned, from a constructional standpoint, with change. Continuous variation and juxtaposition of materials, characters and atmospheres marks the surface of a form in roughly 4 parts. The rate at which those changes in temperament occur is itself subject to variation: the opening, marked Volatile, contrasts with later sections when blurted interruptions give way to gentle crossfades.
Quartet was commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest, and premiered in Santa Fe on August 11, 2011. The piece is dedicated to oboist Liang Wang with admiration.
— Sean Shepherd
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"A terrific new piece…"
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