Honors: Margaret Marco and Forrest Pierce

With funding from an artistic innovation grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, Marco commissioned Pierce to create a Concerto for Oboe d’amore, Strings and Percussion.

Composer Forrest Pierce and musician Margaret Marco continue their history of collaboration with a new Concerto for Oboe d’amore, Strings and Percussion, to be performed in April. (Photo by Nathan Lang)
Composer Forrest Pierce and musician Margaret Marco continue their history of collaboration with a new Concerto for Oboe d’amore, Strings and Percussion, to be performed in April. (Photo by Nathan Lang)

In 2009, Forrest Pierce wrote a set of songs for the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra and local soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson. The premiere of Twelve Kisses was so successful that Bruce Sorrell, the orchestra’s music director, programmed it again last season. Margaret Marco played oboe d’amore on both performances.

“It was clear that the piece resonated with both audience members and members of the orchestra,” says Marco. “Forrest’s writing is so ingenious and original and truly speaks to the soul. Very few serious composers writing for oboe or oboe d’amore currently are as adept as Forrest at writing such evocative lines for the instrument. I just had to get him to write a solo piece for oboe d’amore.”

It wasn’t hard for Marco to track Pierce down; they work down the hall from one another at the University of Kansas, where Pierce is an associate professor of composition and Marco is an associate professor of oboe.

“It was Forrest’s idea to write a concerto and to ask Bruce if it would be possible to premiere it with the KC Chamber Orchestra. Bruce was more than willing.”

Next step: financing. The performance of a newly-created work of music, an activity critical for the livelihood of performers and composers, as well as for the vitality of the arts community, comes at a cost that can often be prohibitive. Marco applied for an Artistic Innovation grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Given the M-AAA’s mission of supporting and strengthening artists, cultural organizations, and communities, Marco felt it was the perfect fit.

It was the perfect fit. In July, the M-AAA awarded Marco $11,850 to commission Pierce to create Concerto for Oboe d’Amore, Strings and Percussion to be premiered in April 2016 by the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra.

Oboe d’amore is translated “oboe of love.” It differs from the oboe in several key ways but the most important is that it is pitched in A, while the oboe is pitched in C, giving the oboe d’amore a lower voice and a deeper tone than the oboe.

“The oboe d’amore has a rich, mellow sound,” says Marco.  “It was a favorite of Bach’s and he wrote obligato parts in his cantatas for the instrument, often pairing it with the soprano voice.”

Marco knows how to get the best out of the both the oboe and the oboe d’amore. Her playing has been described as “wistful and utterly engaging” with an expression that is “reminiscent of a soprano’s operatic aria.” Her musical appointments have included principal oboe of the Orquesta Sinfònica de Maracaibo, in Venezuela, the Spoleto Festival in Spoleto, Italy, the Rome Festival Orchestra, Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada and the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra.

Long an advocate of new works for the oboe and oboe d’amore, Marco has already received several grants that have allowed her to commission composers to write for the instruments, including Gabriela Lena Frank, Kip Haaheim, Ingrid Stölzel, Anne Guzzo and Vincio Meza.

The Forrest Pierce commission, Concerto for Oboe d’amore, Strings and Percussion, will follow a typical four-movement plan but will branch out a bit by using adaptations of contemporary rock song forms, modal landscapes similar to an alap (a form of melodic improvisation that traditionally opens a North Indian classical performance), and cabalettas, the aria form favored by opera composers like Rossini and Bellini.

“Forrest’s unique combination of influences and his fusion of contemporary virtuosity with sincere lyricism will have broad appeal,” says Marco. “The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra primarily programs the music of 18th- and 19th-century composers, so hearing a work by a living, 21st-century American composer is an unusual experience for the typical audience member.  But an experience definitely worth having.”

Concerto for Oboe d’amore, Strings and Percussion will premiere on April 26, 2016 at the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra concert at Old Mission Methodist Church in Shawnee. There will be a pre-concert discussion presented by Sorrell and Pierce, which should prove to be as educational and entertaining as the performance itself.

“Besides being an immense talent, Forrest is an incredibly articulate, super funny guy, and just a wonderful personto be around!” Marco said, smiling.

About The Author: Krista Lang Blackwood

Krista Lang Blackwood

Krista Lang Blackwood is an award-winning educator, performer and freelance writer. When she's not teaching or performing, she combs the greater Kansas City region for off-the-beaten-path arts and culture offerings, usually in the company of her husband and precocious, French-speaking son. 

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