Shadowplay: New Music for Oboe and English Horn

Keri E. McCarthy

Keri E. McCarthy performs new music for oboe and English horn from artists in Southeast Asia and the United States.

Shadowplay: New Music for Oboe and English Horn Keri E. McCarthy

All of these pieces are dear to me- each reflects a different vision of oboe or English horn, and each features different aspects of the lyricism and virtuosic capabilities of those instruments. Most works presented here were commissions, and I was fortunate to work with many of the composers while preparing their music. Several pieces showcase features of traditional musics from Southeast Asia. I am especially grateful for the artistry of my collaborators here; it was a privilege to work with each of them, and I am honored to share these works with a listening audience. -KEM

Dô Hông Quân is a Vietnamese composer and conductor from Hanoi. Hailing from a musical family, he has written a number of notable film scores as well as ballets, chamber music, and symphonies. Four Pictures is folk inspired; each movement is riddled with pentatonic melodies, mosaic forms, and percussive elements.

Parlor Games is a sprightly trio of movements for English horn and piano composed by David Harned Johnson. Each movement shares its title with a Victorian-era diversion. “Lookabout” introduces a quick and winding theme that sounds like partygoers hunting for a hidden trinket. The second movement, “Forfeits”, showcases the English horn’s lyrical nature. The reflective, melancholy character of the movement portrays the relinquishing of personal items by the game’s players. “Snapdragon”, is named for a 16th-century amusement, during which the participants snatched sweet raisins from a bowl of burning brandy. This final movement is a daring and virtuosic romp across quick metric shifts, and is great fun for the performers and audience alike. Parlor Games is also available for performance on oboe or soprano saxophone.

Meditations on Myu Mhaung Wai Kin was commissioned from H. James Harkins in 2015 to commemorate the Light through Music project’s work with the Gitameit Music Academy in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). The piece is based on a traditional water festival tune for the Burmese harp (saung). Repertoire for this instrument usually features two distinct lines (one for each hand), reminiscent of Baroque counterpoint. Both of these influences are audible in Meditations, with embellished melodic lines in oboe and bassoon interweaving with resynthesized saung in the electronic track.

…and I will love the silence…, by Aleksander Sternfeld-Dunn, highlights the unusual combination of English horn and cello. The piece reflects upon the poem “Savage Beauty” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and explores the relationships between sound and silence while highlighting the varied sonorous possibilities of these well-paired instruments. The resulting interplay between dissonance and consonance, lyricism and harmony, and string and wind timbres creates a dramatically intense unfolding of the thematic materials.

Ryan M. Hare composed Canzonetta after his 1997 work, Canzona, for oboe and cello. This earlier work is in two movements- slow and fast, respectively, and Canzonetta interleaves music from both of those movements. Hare writes: “Most of the music in Canzonetta is taken solely from the oboe part of Canzona. However, in a few places the oboe does play what was originally a cello part and in others I have convolved the two parts to create a new melodic line. My original conception of Canzona was to write long melodic lines for both instruments that carried in each a separate and distinctive character; sometimes the oboe and cello interact constructively and at others times seem at odds. The alteration of the two movements into the one movement of Canzonetta serves to provide an analogy of this cooperation/conflict between the two instruments, excepting that it is now expressed in a rather more schizophrenic manner by a single instrument.”

Rhythmic Flowers by Weerachat Premananda is a Western reimagining of the Thai traditional piphat ensemble using interwoven string, wind, and pitched percussive elements. Oboe, violin, cello, and piano mimic Thai instruments including the double-reed pinai, zither-like khim, bowed string saw, and xylophone ranat ek, throughout the work’s rhapsodic introduction, leading into a steadily pulsing main section. Instrumentation and interlocking harmonic elements promote a western-tinged interpretation, while the intense interplay between instruments and largely heterophonic textures presented throughout the work provide insight into Thai musical traditions.

Gongan is an adventurous work for oboe and piano by Malaysian composer, Yii Kah Hoe. In it, Yii experiments with temporal cycles integral to the Malay wayang kulit, or shadow puppet, tradition. Throughout Gongan, the oboe imitates the serunai, the quadruple-reed instrument of the wayang kulit, while the piano replicates percussive rhythmic patterns called “gongan.” It is the balance between these repeating rhythmic gestures and unpredictable solo lines that provides listeners with the captivating and transcendent nature of Malay traditional musics.

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