Friday, December 4, 2009

Ten Bagatelles by Donald Wheelock

Donald Wheelock is celebrating his final semester of teaching at Smith College in a few weeks. He has held the position since 1974. As a composer, he has been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and his output includes music for string quartet, voice, mixed instrumental ensemble, and solo sonatas. He has an impressive list of premiere performances with some of New England's top chamber ensembles and his music has been recorded on several labels. In fact, one recording was just released by the Walden Chamber Players offering a retrospective of his works.

Personally, I met Donald Wheelock a few years ago when he popped into my restaurant to celebrate his anniversary with his wife, Anne. The name sounded somewhat familiar as I read over the reservation notes before I greeted them. Somehow, I think I may have read through or perhaps looked over his Ten Bagatelles for oboe and string quartet during my undergraduate days at the Cincinnati Conservatory, but I couldn't place exactly how I knew him until we struck up a conversation about music later in the evening.

They were both lovely people, and a pleasure to wait on. We went through the motions of the meal and as our rapport built, I made sure that I gave them the best experience that I could. I was very excited to place the name, the face, and the piece all together at a later point in the meal, and we spoke in detail about his works that included oboe. I told him that I would be very interested to know about them since I had been thinking about getting back into playing. There isn't much music for the oboe, so finding some new and interesting pieces to play is a rare treat. By the end of the meal, we exchanged email addresses and agreed to stay in touch. I didn't really expect what happened about a week later.

A package arrived in the mail addressed to me with a personal hand-written letter thanking me for the meal that I had served them and enclosed was a stack of scores that included oboe music for me and viola music for Dan along with recordings of the pieces as they were available. I was pretty shocked at the speedy follow through that Mr. Wheelock had exhibited. I vowed that I would perform his pieces sooner rather than later.

So now, here I am on the figurative eve of the concert where I will perform Donald Wheelock's Ten Bagatelles with the Arneis Quartet. I'm feeling a little nervous because the pieces present a significant challenge for the ensemble, but I'm also excited to be able to perform music written by someone who has shown such a sincere interest in my playing. The pieces themselves are fantastic: ten short vignettes, each with it's own distinct personality ranging from pithy and sarcastic to sentimental and a little sad. If you're able to make it to the performance, I hope that you will enjoy getting to know these little gems as much as I have.

1 comment: