Writing a work for solo oboe and orchestra poses considerable challenges. Although one of the finest melodic instruments, the oboe is easily overpowered, is a little harder to control than other wind instruments, and lacks the timbral range of, say, the string or percussion families. The solution here was to limit the form to 'monody', or simple accompanied melody, and by limiting orchestral size to a wind quartet, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, percussion and strings.
The work falls into two broad sections : the first is slow-fast-slow, the second fast-slow-fast. The piece opens in a deliberately minor mode, mostly with a flattened second. This 'arabesque' sound world is complemented by melodic arabesques that seem inordinately idiomatic on the oboe. This progresses smoothly into a regular motoric section that concludes with brilliant trills on the oboe. The first part closes with a dirge built around a repetitive rhythmic cell that could be the beat either of a heart or of a funeral drum.
The second, shorter, part, opens in the same minor modality as the beginning of the piece, but this time in an energetic syncopated rhythm. This falls away abruptly to an un-measured melismatic solo and a brief cadenza before returning to close the work, this time in an unashamed major key.
Oboe Concerto was commissioned by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra with financial assistance from the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council. It is dedicated to David Nuttall.