This month, Kenneth Hesketh’s solo oboe work The Mechanical Turk is the feature of the Journal. Dedicated to Hansjorg Schellenberger this is a substantial composition for solo oboe that is full of energy and virtuosity.
The Mechanical Turk
Instrumentation: Solo Oboe
Premiere: Commissioned by Dr. Margitta Giera for her birthday and dedicated to Hansjorg Schellenberger
Stimulated by my love of automata, this work for solo oboe takes its name from the chess-playing automaton by the 18th century author and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen. He constructed an extraordinary mechanical man powered by clockwork, dressed in a stylish Turkish costume supposedly capable of playing chess. The invention turned out to be fraudulent but it did spark many other thinkers and inventors to consider the future possibilities of automation.
My work is a highly virtuosic homage to von Kempelen’s creation. In three broad sections (played without a break) a through composed melody, slightly eastern in its inflections and ornamentation, is subjected to a series of distortions based on the mechanisms used in automata (pulleys, cams, gears and cranks). There are also certain onomatopoeic effects (winding up, whirring noises etc.) which add to the air of the mechanical.
© Kenneth Hesketh
About Kenneth Hesketh
“One of the UK’s most vibrant voices” (International Piano), Hesketh has received numerous national and international commissions and has worked with an array of important conductors and soloists including Sir Simon Rattle, Nicholas Daniel, Vasily Petrenko, Clare Hammond, Susanna Malkki, Sarah Leonard, Martyn Brabbins, Janet Sung, Ludovic Morlot and Pascal Rophé, who described Hesketh as having “a strong capacity to build shape and dramaturgy in a piece. [He] has a poetry in the way he treats the orchestra; the mixtures, and the colours”.
Oliver Knussen was an important early champion of Hesketh’s music; advocates of Hesketh’s music in Britain and Europe include conductors Christoph-Mathias Mueller and Clark Rundell. He has been represented at festivals from London (Proms) to the USA (Tanglewood/Bowdoin) to China (Beijing Modern Music Festival). His Prom commission, Graven Image, elicited the observation that he is “a composer who both has something to say and the means to say it” (Tempo Magazine).
Hesketh’s fascination with entropy, mutation and existentialism coexists with a notable interest in formal design based on the influence of ‘pathways’ (labyrinths and mazes) and the paradoxical notion of clarity through density.
Composer in residence with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra (2007 – 9), awards include the Shakespeare Prize (Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg), the André Chevillion-Yvonne Bonnaud Prize (France), and a British Composer Award in 2017 for his work In Ictu Oculi. The BBC Music Magazine described Hesketh’s work as ‘an exhilarating and beautiful synergy of form and expression […]” and as “a composer at the height of his considerable powers”.