Helen Grime studied both oboe and composition at the Royal College of Music and so knows the instrument extremely well. As well as her Oboe Concerto (written in 2003) which won an prize from the British Composer Awards, Helen has also written the following works for oboe.
Three Miniatures (2013)
My Three Miniatures for oboe and piano was written at the request of a good friend and supporter, Peter Evans, in 2005. Each movement is very short and concentrated and I have aimed to display the wide variety of expression of which the oboe is capable.
The first movement opens with a simple melody in oboe harmonics. The two instruments begin quite separately and gradually overlap as it reaches its climax.
The second movement is much faster and more virtuosic. A spiky piano line is decorated and punctuated by oboe interjections. The oboe becomes more distinct from the piano before tweaking into an expressive melody. The movement ends with a cadenza like passage for oboe interspersed with fragments of the piano’s opening material.
The final movement begins in the depths of the piano bass. The oboe takes up and develops the piano’s theme. Towards the end, a solo oboe cadenza draws on all three movements before a sparse and delicate reminder of the movement’s opening.
‘Arachne’ is based on Ted Hughes’ retelling of the myth in his ‘Tales from Ovid’. Arachne, a mortal and master weaver, is challenged to a contest of the goddess, Minerva. Minerva creates a work depicting the Olympian gods and their conquests over humans. Arachne fashions a scene of debauchery showing the Gods raping the deceiving humans. Arachne’s weaving is flawless and Minerva is so outraged that she beats Arachne mercilessly. Arachne is so demoralised that she hangs herself. Minerva takes pity on her and turns her into a spider.
The opening of the miniature depicts Arachne’s arrogance and assurance in her abilities. The middle section suggests the weaving contest between Minerva and Arachne. A freer episode attempts to show the violence of Minerva and suicide of Arachne. The quiet, enigmatic ending conveys the metamorphoses where Minerva turns Arachne into a spider.
Oboe Quartet (2011)
Oboe Quartet is essentially an abstract piece. This is somewhat unusual in my out-put with many pieces taking extra-musical starting points. The stimulus for the piece sprang from my love of the oboe as well as an exploration of its relationship with the three string instruments. I studied the oboe alongside composition at the Royal College of Music in London, and although I rarely play anymore, I have retained a strong bond with the instrument.
The piece is cast in one continuous movement although it falls into a number of shorter sections. The oboe is the protagonist throughout with the string trio set against it in a unit, sometimes opposing, sometimes shadowing, commenting or expanding upon on the oboe’s line. The character of music moves between plaintive, virtuosic and fantastical to reflective and somewhat melancholy.
In the opening section, a gradually unfolding melody in the oboe is punctuated by gentle rocking figures in the trio. These two ideas interlock and overlap becoming more agitated and compressed before all instruments come together in a fantastical section. This leads to a faster energetic section with all instruments combining to produce an intense unison passage ending on repeated B flats on the oboe, the instrument’s lowest note. This in turn leads to an extended oboe cadenza, which is interrupted by faster, agitato figures in the string trio. These interruptions become gradually quieter and less forceful taking us into a very slow, calm final section featuring the high register of the oboe and delicate glissandi in the string writing.
About Helen Grime
Born in 1981, Helen studied oboe with John Anderson and composition with Julian Anderson and Edwin Roxburgh at the Royal College of Music. In 2003 she won a British Composer Award for her Oboe Concerto, and was awarded the intercollegiate Theodore Holland Composition Prize in 2003 as well as all the major composition prizes in the RCM. In 2008 she was awarded a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship to study at the Tanglewood Music Center where she studied with John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas. Grime was a Legal and General Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music from 2007 to 2009. She became a lecturer in composition at the Department of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London,in January 2010.
Helen has had works commissioned by some of the most established performers including London Symphony Orchestra, BCMG, Britten Sinfonia, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center. Conductors who have performed her work include Daniel Harding, Pierre Boulez, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Sir Mark Elder. Her work Night Songs was commissioned by the BBC Proms in 2012 and premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen. Between 2011 and 2015 she was Associate Composer to the Hallé Orchestra. Her first commission for the orchestra, Near Midnight, was premiered on May 23, 2013 and a recording of her orchestral works performed by the Hallé was released as part of the NMC Debut Disc Series in 2014, which was awarded ‘Editors Choice’ by Gramophone Magazine.