The East Coast (1994)
for bass oboe and orchestra
I had met the oboist Lawrence Cherney when he invited me to Canada for a series of concerts in the Glenn Gould Studio in 1993. When he asked me for a piece to perform at the Winnipeg New Music Festival I had to balance my admiration for his wonderful musicianship with my personal distaste for the oboe ( in my opera Medea I had replaced the oboes with saxophones). However, I pointed out that this antipathy lessens as the pitch range lowers (via the oboe d'amore, through the cor anglais, to the bass oboe) and suggested therefore a concerto for bass oboe. The French instrument maker Lorée provided Lawrence with a fine instrument which - fortunately, as I'd included the note - had the low B flat key. In keeping with the dignity and melancholy inherent in the instrument's sound the piece does not feature virtuosic display but rather focuses on its ability to sustain long melodic phrases of an elegiac character. In this I had in mind the lovely bass oboe solo in Grainger's The Warriors.
This piece is the third in a series of four for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation taken from the four cardinal points. The first, The Green Ray, a concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra, relates to western coasts (of Scotland and southern California); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to the image of facing north from St. Hilda's Abbey at Whitby; this third, for bass oboe, is connected both to the east coast of North Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada; and the last, for cello, called The South Downs alludes to the southern coast of England. Those pieces which face in opposite directions, as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. With the two string pieces the viola piece's implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece's warmth. In the case of the pieces for reed instruments, therefore, the bass oboe concerto is a much cooler, bleaker variant of The Green Ray.
The piece was commissioned by Lawrence Cherney with additional funds made available by the Arts Council of England.