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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Strings (1985)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
14 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Oboe and Clarinet
Alternate Orchestration
2vn, va, vc, db
Purchase CD
Programme Note
John Harbison Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Strings (1985)
When I was asked to write a piece for a large consortium of ensembles, the initial discussions were with oboist Sarah Bloom and clarinetist David Shifrin. Out of this conjuncture the present concerto arose. Sarah Bloom was entrusted with the premiere of the pieces in its orchestral guise, at the New College Music Festival in Sarasota, Florida, and David Shifrin with the single instrument version, at Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Oregon. The initial performances have used student soloists as well: this was part of my intention for the piece.

The oboe, clarinet, and strings are equal partners. The first movement is declamatory, and second contemplative, the last frenetic. Each movement sustains one affect, in the Baroque manner, and it was one of my pleasures to introduce the clarinet, born too late for the heyday of the concerto grosso, into that texture. The steady insistent rhythms are indeed baroque, the harmonies less so.

I am particularly fond of the high rhythmic dudgeon maintained in the outer movements, but it is balanced by the traceries of the middle movement, which joins the last through a cadenza-like transition.

One astute writer referred to the piece as “scenes from a marriage”. This metaphorical marriage between solo winds and strings contains quarrels, precarious balances, comic relief, misunderstandings, and eventual unanimity.

The National Endowment for the Arts supported this commission. Other members of the Consortium: the International Chamber Soloists, the Toledo Symphony Chamber Music Series, the Wall Street Chamber Players, Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, Carnegie-Mellon University, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

—John Harbison

  • Ensemble
    Amernet String Quartet
    Henry Peyrebrune (Double Bass), Charles Neidich (Clarinet), Sara Lambert Bloom (Oboe)
    Centaur Records:
  • Ensemble
    Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra
    Peggy Pearson, oboe; Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet
    Scott Yoo
    Bridge Records:
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