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Night the Obscure

for oboe quintet

//  Duration: 5'
//  Date:  2014
//  Instrumentation: oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, bass
// For: Ensemble39
//  Premiere: 22 October 2014, Philadelphia

Premiered live, 22 October 2014

University of Pennsylvania


With Ensemble39:
Alexandra von der Embse, oboe
Stanislav Chernyshev, clarinet
Abigail Fayette, violin
Yoshihiko Nakano, viola
Nathaniel West, bass

Night the Obscure is the sonic result of a couple fascinations of mine: sensual poetry and the use of cyclicity in artworks that otherwise unfold linearly in time. I was first inspired by this selection from Wallace Stevens’ magnificent 1916 poem “Six Significant Landscapes”:


The night is of the color
Of a woman's arm:
Night, the female,
Fragrant and supple,
Conceals herself.
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance.

With this imagery in mind, I conceived a long, supple, sinuous melody for oboe that is repeated throughout the piece, at times echoed by the clarinet and violin, and always presented in a new harmonic context every time it repeats, as if ripples on a pool are constantly shaking our perception of the night’s light.

This piece was written for Philadelphia-based Ensemble39, composed of former and current students of the Curtis Institute. Inspired by Sergei Prokofiev's Quintet, Op. 39, for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, and bass, its unique mix of strings and winds embraces many musical styles, from the classical oboe to the jazz bass, the klezmer clarinet to the old time fiddle. In just two years, commissions for the ensemble have reached the double digits and continue to multiply. E39 has worked with some of the best young composers of their generation and have been regular performers at the Curtis Institute of Music's annual Composer Recital. E39 changes the conventional concert paradigm, exploring new venues, seeking diverse collaborators, loosening the presentation protocol, and pursuing mixtape-style programming. Equally at home in traditional concert spaces, art galleries, bars, pop-ups, and living rooms, appearances have included Philadelphia's AxD Gallery, Dresden's Glaeserne Manufaktur, World Cafe Live and Miller Theater. More can be found at www.ensemble39.org