I received this in the comment section of another post but felt it should be brought to everyone’s attention:

Warning: blatant (but possibly useful) plug to follow:

Since this is THE premier oboe (in)site, I thought I would pass along the little known information on how to order a copy of one of the most fun/difficult oboe pieces, ever: Blues for D.D. (many versions – oboe & piano recommended). It’s only available two places in the world (not counting thieves): from Howarth’s of London and from the composer (i.e. me). Drop me a line if you’re interested. If you’ve never heard it (Hearing Diana Doherty herself is the ultimate experience), you might go to YouTube and look/listen to Simon Emes perform it.

Here’s the video:

So have at it, y’all! I love the work!

… and thanks, Jeffrey, for the “THE premier oboe (in)site” comment. You are VERY kind!

Update (done even before the entry is posted but I’m too darn lazy to bother redoing the entire thing!)

Jeff sent me a nice long message that includes a lot more about his work. It’s an interesting note so do read it! Then, if you can find it, purchase Diana Doherty’s Blues For Diana Doherty (Sorry, I had a link to the book seller … you know … that big one, with the big name … but due to their issues with the state of California I have removed the link. You’ll need to find it elsewhere.) because, really, you should own that recording! (I had to order it from overseas.)

Here’s his letter:

Patty,

How nice to hear from you! I would be delighted at any mention in your blog. I was simply hoping to sneak a shameless plus for the Blues past you, but it’s also possible that it might help people track down a piece they might be interested in, although it’s really really difficult (also really fun). I don’t know how much you know about the piece (including ever having heard it). I wrote it for Diana Doherty, was the new solo oboe in our orchestra (Lucerne Symphony Orchestra). This was at a time when I was writing a lot of jazzy commissions (although I play classical horn, I also play jazz guitar) for classical players, and writing something for Diana was irresistible. She was 23 at the time and sounded like she had 25 years of experience. Her chops and stage presence were completely dazzling. So I set out to write something that was both fun and fiendishly difficult. For instance, I knew she could circular breathe, so in the original solo oboe version there are only two measures (where you snap your fingers) rest. It’s like a Paris Conservatory piece in a way – a little bit of everything in it. It starts out rather Gershwinesque, then goes into swing, then Latin, bebop, and finishes with a chromatic line the entire range of the instrument, plus a brief tongue-in-cheek coda. It’s in a wretched key – Eb – but this makes the chromatic line possible. In short, I did everything I could to make it as fun and as difficult as possible – but in a good way. I hate pieces that are difficult for difficult’s sake. But I did it here to 1) have fun and 2) show off, not necessarily in that order. Diana took to it like Danica Patrick to a race car and oh boy. Shortly thereafter she won two major international competitions and her career was off. She played the piece as her encore around the world, stunning audiences everywhere (of course, when she walks on stage with that 1000 watt smile, million dollar confidence, and electric blue dress she could recite phone numbers and the audience would love it). A couple years later a clarinet player asked me for a version for clarinet and piano (to share the licks with the piano, open up spots to breathe, and make it a wee bit easier – it’s still hard!). That was Bernhard Röthlisberger, a Swiss virtuoso, and he recorded it on his Who Nose. I went back made an oboe and piano version for Diana, and she started playing that in recitals, and she put both versions on her CD, entitled (surprise) Blues for D.D.

It will never be published because it’s just too hard and only the bravest will even attempt it. At least that was my thinking back then. But every couple months someone tracks me down and orders a copy. Over the years they have also asked for other versions, and I was happy to oblige (it’s fun and a bit easier to play in an ensemble). To date I’ve made the following versions:

Oboe solo
Oboe and piano
Oboe and English horn
Oboe and Bass
Oboe and Bass Oboe
Oboe and Bassoon
Oboe, Bassoon, Clarinet
2 oboes, English horn, 2 bassoons
2 oboes, English horn, bassoon
Oboe, flute, Bb clarinet, Fr. horn, cello

I’m also happy to make new versions for a bit extra $

The only place that the piece is available except from me is Howarth’s of London – a woodwind-only shop. If you ever see a copy of the piece that looks rather photocopied (I print solo parts on heavy cardstock), it’s an illegal copy, shame shame.

The Royal College of Music in London made the piece a required piece for their students 2007, something that was a bit surprise to me. I paid a visit (and did a clinic and concert) there in the spring of ’07 and was amazed and delighted at the talent and skill of the players there.

Janey Miller and her New Noise group also recorded it on her CD “Insomniac”, adding improvised percussion with my blessing (I’m always glad when performers bring their own personality and ideas to a piece. Composers don’t know everything).

Several grad students have made the piece an object of study. Although it is no doubt way more than you want/need, I’ll paste below a couple letters from them. Feel free to edit, excerpt, or ignore any/all of it:

Blues for D.D.: Letters

Dear Clare,

Following is a series of questions and answers that I sent to an earlier inquiry about Diana. Answers to yours follow these.

Dear Ann,

How irresistible for a composer to be asked to talk about Diana Doherty or himself!

To your questions:

1. What were you trying to achieve in writing the piece?

For a composer, meeting Diana Doherty is like being in charge of mountain building and coming upon Rheinhard Messner or Sir Edmund Hillary. You can’t help wanting to construct a K2 or Mt. Everest to put their world-class talents to the test.

2. How important do you think the relationship you had with Diana was in terms of influencing the piece?

Relationship? Hmm. On the most superficial level, Diana was a friend and an orchestra colleague. On another level: everyone meets people in life who one considers truly remarkable. I have met a few folks in my day, and have a list of such Really Remarkables that totals 4. Diana is one of them. She is truly the most stunningly spectacular performing artist that I’ve ever met or heard, the oboist of the millennium (truth to tell, until I heard Diana play, I never much cared for the oboe or its sound. Since Diana I don’t think that way any more.)

3. How important to you was it if Diana liked the work or not?

Very. I liked the piece after composing it and I had few doubts that it would appeal to her; my main concern was that it stepped over the line into being unplayable, even for an oboist like Diana whose technique is better than God’s.

4. Did you make any amendments to the score after its first draft? If so, what sort of amendments, and how much did Diana have to do with these?

The only change I can remember making was a measure at the end of the slow introduction; Diana’s suggestion was that the original was awkward and too high, so I changed the line a bit and reduced the range by a step.

5. Were you ever concerned that the work might be too difficult to play?

Oh, yes (see No. 3). I was trying to tiptoe just this side that fine line of playability. I wanted to harness Diana’s dazzling abilities, give her a chance to stretch in a new direction (jazz), and make every jaw in the house drop.

6. How important to you was audience response to the work, both during the composing period, and also after its first performance?

I am three people when I compose: the composer, the player, the audience. As I write I am very keenly aware of both the musician’s technical challenges and enjoyment of playing the piece, and of the effect of the performance on the audience. If you want to hear me rant and rave for a couple hours, just get me going on the topic of composers who write music that is difficult to no purpose – difficulty for difficulty’s sake, notes that are written without a thought as to whether anyone will have the slightest enjoyment or interest in listening to them; this feeling is a bit like Truman Capote’s comment on the writings of Jack Kerouac: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

7. From your knowledge, what was the general audience response to the work?

I had to read about it and hear about it secondhand for a while before I finally heard her play it in concert: audience response was tremendous; but then, so is the response to everything she does. Diana is an audience’s dream and a composer’s dream. Anything she touches turns to aural gold.

8. Were you happy with the way Diana played it?

Yes, a thousand times yes.

9. Would you like other people to play it in the future?

Of course. Breathes there a composer with soul so dead that he does not want his works played everywhere? I am fortunate to have written pieces that get widely played; some have even entered the standard repertoire. But I have no illusions that this particular piece will be played from every street corner – it is damnably difficult. Blues for D.D. is an oboist’s north face of the Eiger, technically speaking. Playing it is climbing Everest without oxygen, literally: besides requiring impeccable rhythm, phrasing, God-like technique, and a terrific sense of humor, the piece requires circular breathing because (with the exception of two measures in the middle of the piece) there are no chances to breathe until the end. The piece may be a breath-taking virtuoso piece of fun for the audience , but it is an insane ‘climb’ for an oboist that verges on the impossible. It would nevertheless be a great piece for advanced oboe students and professionals to test their mettle (perhaps as a contest piece), while having a fun time: how often does an oboist get to play walking bass, or syncopated Latin lines, or swing, or bebop? It’s all there, 3 pages, 3 minutes of wild ride. Actuallly, at the behest of a clarinet player (who later recorded it on CD), in 1997 I did a more practical performing version for both clarinet and piano and oboe and piano.

10. How would you judge the “success” of one of your works?

I consider a work successful if I succeed in tailoring a piece as exactly as possible to a performer’s needs and requirements (I specialize in composing commissioned chamber music for professional ensembles and for soloists – each piece is written for a particular group or individual and written very specifically according to their wishes and abilities). The piece succeeds if she or he is happy with the result. Audience reaction is also a component: every piece is designed to have audience appeal, whatever that is. I love to be able to work with the performer. After the piece is complete, I am very interested in going over every detail with him or her to check it. I gladly make changes when it helps the music. The notes on the page – especially in the first draft – are an educated guess, not holy writ. I am also glad for the opportunity to learn more about the fine points of the instrument(s). No matter how many times I have written for an instrument, I always learn something new with each new piece.

11. Would you then consider that this work was “successful”, whatever that means to you?

Writing any piece is always a shot in the dark. Somehow you find an idea or concept that seems promising and then you use everything you have to realize it in the best possible way. As Chief Dan George observed, “Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.” It is very easy to tell if a piece has succeeded: if the piece fails, the performer will say, “Very nice,” and then put it away and never play it again. If it is a success, the performer will say, “Very nice,” and play it again and again. Then others will come to you and ask about the piece, perhaps request a copy. It is ideal, of course, if you can get the piece published, in order to make it easier to share it with a wider community of musicians. But whether a work is published or not is a quality separate from the real success of a work.

To me, this work was a success from Diana’s first smile and from her second performance

of it.

Good luck on your lecture-recital.

Best regards,

Jeffrey Agrell

Dear Clare,

Your questions:

1. What inspired you to want to compose a work for Diana? -see above

2. Specifically, why did you decide to write a Blues, rather than a more classically oriented work?

A: I always look to see which way everyone else is zigging or has zigged, and then I zag. I look for holes in the literature. If it is clear that the wheel as already been invented, I try to come up with something completely new, which often means simply placing something older in a brand new context, cross-pollinating, so to speak. I have some background in jazz (guitar) as well as classical (horn); how many works for jazz oboe are there published for classically trained players? I saw right away that the oboe world was well-stocked with ‘classical’ pieces, but was innocent of blues works.

3. Do you have a particular interest in writing for oboe?

See the above letter.

Have you written other oboe works?

A.: Just a short Rondo for 3 oboes; there are of course oboe parts in my 2 woodwind quintets. The instrumentation of what I write normally depends on who is doing the commissioning; secondarily what I or my colleagues, friends, or students are in need of.

4. I presume you have heard Diana perform “Blues”. What was your impression of her performance from your perspective as the composer?

A: See the above letter.

5. What compositions are you currently working on?

A.: See above (“About the Composer”)

What direction is your compositional style taking?

A.: Earlier works were more directly jazz-influenced. I have been gradually moving toward a less obvious jazz influence, more ‘classically’ integrated, whatever that means. My works very often have some kind of humorous or at least upbeat component to them (e.g. the cheeky exit line in the last measure of Blues for DD); there is a bit less of this now. I don’t know if this is good or bad or neither or reflects an unconscious effort at greater respectability now that I have moved from being a professional musician to a university professor. I hope it just represents a kind of maturation. My writing has also become a little more dissonant, while remaining resolutely tonal. I don’t think, however, that humor, tonality, jazz, and so on will ever depart from my writing completely. Another element of my writing is a flair for the dramatic – I have some background in theatre, not to mention a certain amount of impulse to show off, attract attention, and provide enjoyment for both performers and listeners. If you want to see the quintessential synthesis of all of these in my writing, listen to my Aviary Divertimento for clarinet and piano on the CD “Who Nose” with Bernhard Röthlisberger as clarinet soloist. It also contains a bit of one other strong influence: percussion. I love percussion, percussion instruments, and rhythm. Next week I will be participating in a Latin percussion workshop (my second – the first was a life-changing event); I expect that the influences from this will show up in short order. I also adore the marimba. After writing a marimba concerto last year, I wrote a piece for clarinet and marimba (called “Rhythm Suite”, what a surprise) that won the 2000 composition contest of the International Clarinet Society. I hope to write a duet for marimba and every wind instrument sooner or later. As you may have gathered, I always have more ideas than time in which to realize them (nevertheless, the university environment seems a fertile place for my work as a composer; the first half of 2001 saw 6 world premieres of my works, 4 new, 2 written earlier and not yet performed. This summer I have written one new one, am at work on a second, and hope to write a third. Love these long teacher holidays!).

New elements in my compositions?

A.: Improvisation. Everyone, both classical and jazz players, forget that 1) improvisation was a basic skill expected of every player until around the romantic era; we have since lost the ability or even the notion that we can or should; 2) jazz is not the only way to improvise. I’ve been working with a pianist on a kind of nonjazz improvising and we are developing a repertoire of pieces that integrate written materials and improvisation, but of a type that is easily accessible to any classical player who dares to try it. We are at the beginning of some evangelicalish work on the behalf of bringing this kind of improvisation back to classical players, writing pieces, doing concerts, giving clinics. For example, on my recital this fall I will be doing a Divertimento (with piano) that will be completely improvised from suggestions taken at the time from the audience. It is scary, but so exhilarating and liberating that it is irresistible not to risk falling flat on our faces for the thrill of the possibility of the fascinating and lively music that seemingly arises from out of nowhere. In clinics we take musicians who have never improvised and have them producing amazing music in short order. But I digress from your original question.

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Patty – I apologize – you asked me what time it was and I gave you the history of Switzerland. Use what you can, toss the rest.

As long as I have your ear (if you’re still there), I have one more topic for another day that may interest you (related to the Blues, sort of): my ‘hobby’ is classical improvisation. Not playing like Mozart, et al., but acquiring the ability to make up your own nonjazz stuff on the spot. I’ve taught a class in it at the University of Iowa, and have 2 books out on it (Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians (see www.giamusic.com/search_details.cfm?title_id=8899) and Improv Games for 1 Player, with another 3 awaiting final editing at the publisher (GIA): Improv Duets, Improvised Chamber Music [4 players], and Creative Piano Pedagogy [with a co-author]. I also have an ensemble (Latitude Ensemble) that gives concerts where we make up all the pieces at the concert – great fun and a hit with audiences. It turns out that making up your own music is both easy and fun. Something that you or your readers might be interested at some point.

I repeat my apologies for the shameless plug and tender my warm regards,

Jeff

2 Comments

  1. Patty, you have discovered my friend Jeff! Isn’t he just the best? I had the great pleasure of playing improvisation games with Jeff for a week last spring, and I’d do just about anything to get another week with him just like it.

  2. I was familiar with the name quite a while back … when I first purchased the “Blues for D.D.” CD. But it was wonderful to “meet” him here! :-)