21st Century Oboe
Christopher Redgate & the Howarth-Redgate Oboe
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Fellowship background:

The following brief text offers an outline of the aims of the AHRC fellowship.

During the nineteenth century the oboe developed from a simple instrument with only a few keys to the more complex instrument that, in essence, is still used today. These changes were brought about by instrument-makers, oboists and composers (often all three were combined in the one person), in response to perceived limitations in the design of the instrument and developing demands in the music of the period. In the twentieth century this characteristic symbiosis faded, with ramifications for instrument design and performance techniques that have become increasingly pressing in recent decades. This research project proposes to create a new model for collaboration between performer, instrument maker and composer, in order to address current problems in instrumental design, and to equip players to meet the challenges of the demanding repertoire being written for the oboe today.

During the last fifty years a number of major changes have occurred in the way some composers are writing for the instrument. These changes include the development of a wide range of 'extended techniques' (for example, playing beyond the current registral range, multiphonics, and quarter-tones), requiring the use of unorthodox and often exceptionally difficult fingerings. The oboe as it stands was not designed to be used in such a way. There is an urgent need to rethink significantly both the keywork design of the instrument and some areas of oboe technique.

Working in collaboration with composers, the instrument-maker Howarth of London and other oboists, I intend to explore viable options for a redesign of the oboe keywork through the creation of a prototype instrument and through commissioning and premiering new compositions that will demonstrate the outcomes of my research. 

Many of the developments in extended oboe techniques of the last fifty years have found very limited acceptance in the oboe playing community. Much of the music written using these techniques has been identified with the avant-garde and has not been accepted into oboists' standard repertoire. Many performers are therefore missing out on music of great expressive potential, and on opportunities for extending their technical development. More significantly, there is a danger that the oboe repertoire is becoming ossified in an unsustainable 'museum culture'. As part of this project I will work collaboratively with composers to create music in a range of styles and levels of difficulty that, while using extended techniques, is designed to widen the appeal of new experimental oboe music.

A significant portion of the project will be carried out 'in public' through the performing of new works and improvisations, and though holding interactive workshops and seminars. These will climax in the organising of several major events at the Royal Academy of Music, that will include discussion of some of the theoretical issues involved in redesigning the instrument, and of the cultural and aesthetic impact of composing for a changing instrument. All events will be documented as audio-visual recordings, which will form the basis of subsequent journal articles, of presentations on PRIMO (the IMR's e-repository), and of materials on the Academy's website. I will also record two commercial CDs of the new works and live improvisations created as part of the project.