Over the last several years I have been collaborating with Swiss
composer (and statistician) Jan Beran on two pieces for oboe
and piano, written specifically for my accompaniment system.
Jan's music is well-served by this
medium, since the demands it places on the players are, at
times, extrordinary (though I did convince him to "dumb-down" the
oboe parts to Winter711 somewhat from the original conception).
While the music is still technically
demanding, even after my "suggestions," the main challenge is
in coordinating the parts. Jan said of Winter711 that he tried
to avoid any familiar sense of musical flow. In other words
Jan's music doesn't give the performer (and listener) the usual cues
needed to rhythmically organize the music. While the
music is sometimes highly rhythmic, many sections contain no
recognizable steady pulse,
nor clear points of emphasis whose times differ in
simple ways, as in much mixed meter music.
While I think these pieces are engaging on their own terms, they
work as a wonderful showcase for the accompaniment system,
since I doubt they could be played by an all-human ensemble. I would
be delighted if any pianist believes I am wrong and offers to play
either of these pieces with me.
While I have done my very best to play these pieces accurately,
I would be at a total loss to perform this music without my accompaniment
system. So much of the music is hard enough to "feel" that I don't
believe I could have even learned these pieces without an accompanist
that understood the rhythmic complexities from the very beginning.
The accompaniment system continually compensates for the inaccuracies
of the live player, mostly producing quite good coordination between
the parts, and reinforcing a correct understanding of the way the parts
While Jan lived in the States for a number of years, Winter711 does *not*
refer to the 7/11 convenience stores. Rather, the piece is named for the
complex interplay of 7-tuplets and 11-tuplets (sometimes simultaneously)
that appear in several sections, as well as a somewhat obscure reference
to "Winter" from the Vivaldi Four Seasons. The main melody in "Mist Covered
Mountains" comes from an Irish folk song by the same name, appearing in
all four movements. While Jan's
compositional style is truly his own, this piece uses familar idioms
of the oboe such as plaintive lyricism, the "little saxophone" and
the shawm and sackbutt band.
Over the years I have become something of a "weekend warrior" of
the oboe; this might be part of the reason these pieces were so
difficult for me to perform. I spent the better part of the
summer of 2005 learning Mist Covered Mountains as well as refreshing
my memory of Winter711 from an earier effort. Putting this music
together required me to learn a new way to mentally organize
rhythm, since the usual techniques didn't work for much of Jan's music.
In addition to notating many cues and rhythmic groupings in my part,
I simply memorized many sections the way a child
learns the Pledge of Allegiance --- much of the music I understand
at the sylable level without having a notion of the higher level "words."
However, I believe
that my musical understanding has not been completely thwarted by
this idiot-like comprehension. How else could I find
such pleasure in playing it?
The mp3's at the top of this page are from our recording session
during August of 2005 at Hardstudios in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Here Jan and I were joined by recording engineer Moritz Wetter,
whose ears and observations were helpful throughout the day.
The pieces were originally recorded using a MIDI
piano which I heard on headphones. The MIDI track was then used to
drive a Yamaha Disklavier, which was recorded and mixed with the original
oboe. While some synchronization errors were fixed during this process,
the coordination is nearly the same as exhibited in live performance.