Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet, and Strings

Peggy Pearson, oboe; Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet; Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra; Scott Yoo, conductor

I’m not a concerto fan. It all boils down to this: the huge chasm separating the sense of intimacy inherent to chamber music from the power monolithic sound that only the orchestra can produce. When I listen to a concerto, this gap is rarely bridged, and I find my head bouncing left, right, and back to the left again, as if at some sonic tennis match were taking place. So I braced myself when I decided to give John Harbison’s Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet, and Strings a shot. During the opening, I was disheartened to think that this wonderful sounding dialogue between the soloists would soon cease being a feisty little chamber music duo. Then, enter the strings. Okay, not bad. The intimacy seems somehow intact—I’m still facing forward. As the orchestra locks into an asymmetrical new-music-style groove, things get a little heavy, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Harbison demonstrates a lion tamer’s command, wrestling with the beast unscathed.

—RN

You might also enjoy…