Given that I’ve earned a living as a composer for several decades, it’s still difficult to explain how this came about. I remember my musical education being very patchy, including almost no specific composition tuition. I recall piles of harmony exercises and fugues at college, and my too-sketchy abilities on piano and organ.

So how did music become my lifetime job? I now realise it was thanks to the oboe, which I began learning at age 11. I began borrowing ‘the school oboe’, followed later by lessons with a great musician and oboist, Robin Miller. Then came performing in bands and orchestras, and, despite the unavoidably baroque atmosphere of the oboe, playing improv and even jazz. For such a polite instrument, it demanded workmanlike skills such as carpentry (making the reeds) mechanics (caring for the tiny keywork) and even the occasional bit of soldering.

Judith Weir, Oboe Concerto, ASO, Adelaide Symphony OrchestraJudith Weir. Photo © Benjamin Ealovega

So when Adelaide Symphony Orchestra principal Celia Craig asked had I ever thought of writing an oboe concerto, I didn’t treat it as I usually do commission requests, doubtfully asking myself, “How long will it take to write? Will anyone else play it ever again?” Instead I had the strongest feeling: “I must do this, and it’s high time I did.” Later, I discovered a link to one of the most well-loved of all oboe concertos, by Bohuslav Martinu˚. Its Czech dedicatee, Jiří Tancibudek, taught at the Elder Conservatorium, in the position now held by Celia. It seemed like a magical blessing for our project, which aimed to stream new oboe music from our far-distant locations across the world.

Fortunately, ASO’s Simon Lord, a long-time supporter from my years in Glasgow, was able to make this a reality, involving two more orchestras, WASO and TSO, in the commission, and inviting conductor Douglas Boyd, himself a former oboe soloist of world renown, to direct the premiere.

But even with a host of oboe-minded supporters cheering you on, your oboe concerto does not write itself. Now with a composer’s beady eye/ear, I found the composition challenging, trying to conjure up substantial paragraphs from a slender, reedy line. But as time went on, I found I was ‘re-learning’ something I’d presumed I knew a lot about. Traditionally the oboe is lyrical, but I began to see that it’s also percussive, with sharp-edged attacks available on prominent pitches. I ended up with a new view of my old instrument. Well worth the long journeys in space – London to Adelaide, Perth and Hobart – and time: 53 years since I picked up that school oboe!


Celia Craig performs the world premiere of Judith Weir’s Oboe Concerto with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Douglas Boyd, October 12 – 13

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