The Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings was composed during the fall and winter of 1999-2000 in Hampton, Virginia for Rolanda L. Allison. The three movements are to be performed attacca.
Program notes by the composer are provided below.
I composed the Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings as a result of an initial challenge by my good friend and colleague Rolanda Allison, who is the Assistant Concertmaster of the Fayetteville Symphony. The routine challenge by Ms. Allison was a request that I compose music in a “romantic” style—something for oboe (or english horn) and strings. The implication, of course, was that I should stay away from the avant-garde in my composing. As I thought about her challenge, I put up an immediate defense—after all, I did not consider my music to be avant garde in any way!
Nevertheless, I began composing the music in earnest in late October, 1999—after a conversation with my good friend and colleague David Kunkel, Music Director of the Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra at an afterglow dinner at Rigatoni’s in August 1999. Mr. Kunkel and I had a conversation about the new music that I was composing, and I mentioned my Piano Sonata No. 1 and the Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings. I envisioned that the concerto would have a general length of 15 minutes, and there were sketches of ideas to be used in the work, but there was no completed music as yet. I learned during our talk that Mr. Kunkel was interested in conducting a world premiere of the Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings during the 20th Anniversary season of the VBSO (now known as Symphonicity). And so, I felt that I had been given an additional challenge—to complete the concerto fairly quickly as well as provide a “romantic” style suggested by Ms. Allison. Almost immediately after this conversation with Mr. Kunkel, I began work in earnest on the Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings and completed it on 27 March 2000.
Now the broad concept behind the Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings is to articulate many of the general gestures of the classic/romantic concerto, but in shorter, neomodern strokes—even to the point of presenting short cadenzas in each movement. The three movements are performed without pause as well. The first movement is very pastoral, and features two chromatic themes in a truncated sonata form—no development or traditional recapitulation is presented. Movement two follows thereafter, and is monothematic; the ternary structure is articulated entirely by a large-scale mediant relation. The concluding Rondo movement—in contrast to the initial movements—is very quick and snappy, and is remniscient of much 20th-century neoclassic music.
Harvey J. Stokes
Duration of movements:
I. Moderato assai: ca. 5’ 24”
II. Largo: ca. 5’ 43”
III. Allegro: ca. 4’ 23”
Total Duration: ca. 15′ 30″
This work is published by Seesaw/Subito Music of Verona, New Jersey.
Instrumentation: Solo Oboe, Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass.
Performed 4/28/01 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina by Harvey Stokes, oboe and the Virginia Beach Symphony, with David Kunkel as conductor.
Performed 4/29/01 in Virginia Beach, Va. by Harvey Stokes, oboe and the Virginia Beach Symphony, with David Kunkel as conductor.
Performed 10/21/06 in Williamsburg, Va. by Harvey Stokes, oboe and the Tidewater Intergenerational Orchestra, with Ulysses Kirksey as conductor.
Some Forum business was attended to: In front of the seated orchestra on a built-up stage before a packed Kitty Hawk School auditorium, President Peggy Shea recommended a petition to endorse a new auditorium in the high school slated for construction in Kill Devil Hills, calling it a matter of importance for the school and the community.
Vice President in Charge of Programs Sue Meyer described a concert lecture-series slated for next season to be given by Joan Freemantle and selected artists before the performances, which will include the Grammy Award-nominated Eroica Trio, National Public Radio favorites Riders in the Sky, and the Dublin-based Celtic band Kila, among others.
Concertmaster Dora Marshall Mullins came onstage and took her place at the chair of 1st Violin. Conductor David S. Kunkel strode out of the wings and the orchestra stood up, launching “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the audience, who shot to their feet and began singing the lyric.
After audience and orchestra had calmed themselves, the latter began playing Johan Strauss Jr.’s overture to his Die Fledermaus (The Bat) while the former commenced swaying to the rhythm. The familiar overture to the opera encapsulated its music like a medley, changing moods and tempi according to the opera’s plot while remaining a free-standing delight.
The orchestra changed those moods and tempi transparently, offering the pure music for the delectation of the audience. Even the 2/4 and 4/4 passages from Strauss (the “Waltz King”) sounded like 3/4-time waltzes, which no one can resist.
Next, Kunkel announced the world premiere of Dr. Harvey Stokes’ “Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Strings.” Stokes is professor of composition at Hampton University, and, happily, 1st Oboe of the Virginia Beach Symphony.
Stokes, “spiritual leader of our woodwinds,” took a folding chair at Kunkel’s side. The first movement, Moderato assai, began with soft atmospheric strings, while Stokes played a soft modal tune on his oboe.
The oboe has been called “an ill wind that no one blows any good,” which canard was belied Saturday evening. Stokes showed total mastery over his difficult instrument, guiding its piping tones through some odd but affecting intervals, while the strings laid down a variegated carpet of sound.
He continued with some short melodic phrases, which were answered in variations by the strings, against which he then played counterpoint. The second and third movements encompassed haunting and lively sections evoking, for this listener, dreams of dancing sprites (and not the British sports cars, although that would work, too).
The piece grew to a whirlwind, which funneled into a single oboe note of several minutes’ duration, played seamlessly by Stokes using a circular breathing technique. This lonely note was cut off past its prime by an abrupt chord from the orchestra and applause filled the subsequent moments.
“And they say conductors are long-winded!” teased Kunkel.
The rest of the program explored the Eastern tone set by the oboe. Stokes led off Saint-Saens’ exotic “Bacchanale” from the opera Samson et Dalila. The “Russian Sailors’ Dance” from Gliere’s The Red Poppyand the Russian Aram Khachaturian’s “Masquerade Suite” followed.
Viola-voiced mezzo-soprano Bonnie Lambert-Baxter came on board to sing the lovely aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta vola” (My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice) from Samson et Dalila and, at the end of the program, “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “Mister Snow” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.
The last piece earned a standing ovation, and for an encore, new mother Lambert-Baxter stood in front of the orchestra with her infant daughter in her arms and sang “God Bless America.”
Five-week-old Allie tapped her little toe; how long before she gets her musician’s union-card?
It was an irresistible moment.