Theater & Arts

Fresno Philharmonic offers world premiere of Fresno composer’s piece for oboe and orchestra

In this October 2014 photo, Rong-Huey Liu (oboe), Walter Saul (composer), James Buswell (violin) and Theodore Kuchar (conductor) pose at the Saroyan Theatre. The four gathered in December 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine to record a CD of Saul’s compositions.
In this October 2014 photo, Rong-Huey Liu (oboe), Walter Saul (composer), James Buswell (violin) and Theodore Kuchar (conductor) pose at the Saroyan Theatre. The four gathered in December 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine to record a CD of Saul’s compositions. Special to The Bee

It doesn’t get much better for a composer than this: There was Walter Saul, the Fresno Pacific University professor and composer, hanging out last December in Kiev while listening to the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine record his piece “Kiev 2014: Rhapsody for Oboe and Orchestra” for the Naxos label.

Actually, it does get even better: This weekend, Saul will get to hear the Fresno Philharmonic play the world premiere of the piece with the same conductor and soloist at the Shaghoian Hall.

That conductor, of course, is Theodore Kuchar, music director of the Fresno Philharmonic, who helped make Saul’s CD a reality. Kuchar conducted the Ukraine orchestra for the recording, and he brought along Rong-Huey Liu, the Fresno Philharmonic’s principal oboist, to Kiev. The Naxos recording features the oboe piece and five other works, including his Violin Concerto performed by James Buswell and “A Christmas Symphony.”

Liu will reprise her solo in the oboe piece in Fresno. “Needless to say, I am so thrilled,” Saul says. “This is indeed a dream come true for me.”

The concert also features Anton Bruckner’s monumental Symphony No. 7 and French pianist Pascal Rogé performing the Camille Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 5 (“The Egyptian.”)

We caught up with Saul to talk about the upcoming concert and the exciting time he had in Kiev, which has been the scene of political unrest.

But another truth about my work is that when I finish a piece, I really finish it and let it go.

Walter Saul

Q: How did you decide on composing for the oboe?

A: I do love the oboe and have always yearned to write more music for it. But, as so many composers have done, it was more about writing for a person than a particular instrument. Ted was very excited about Rong-Huey Liu and challenged me to write a brand-new piece for the CD that would feature her. After I heard her play just a few notes of my piece, I was awestruck. Every note I heard from her was a work of art. I had to pinch myself to remember I had written these notes, but she brought them to life!

Q: Thinking back to the recording session, has the piece been modified in any way since?

A: No, it hasn’t. I tried to deal honestly with any issue that needed resolving by consulting with Rong-Huey and Ted as the piece was being sketched and committed to the final score. I wanted the piece to be as idiomatic for oboe as I could make it, and Rong-Huey was so helpful and guided me so well. Ted also helped me with the bowings for the strings, which is still a process that I find difficult to do on my own.

But another truth about my work is that when I finish a piece, I really finish it and let it go. In this way, I tend to be the opposite of Bruckner. I do not believe in re-editing.

Q: You were in Kiev in a time of upheaval. Do you continue to follow what is happening there? Have things settled down?

A: Wow! Quite honestly, it seemed as if we were there right between two very dark times in Ukraine. We knew nothing of the stress and danger that was so much in the news in February 2014 and during 2015. We led a charmed and protected life during our week in Kiev. …

One humorous time was when we innocently ambled into some street vendors who put “peace” doves right on our shoulders and urged us to take pictures of ourselves, then demanded 100 Hryvnia (about $6) from us. Rong-Huey quickly shooed us away when we realized that we did not have enough Ukrainian currency to pay them, while Ted waited for us at the underground entrance with some amusement! We learned quickly from this incident and did just fine during the rest of our trip.

I am grateful that, after some very tense months earlier this year, truces seem to be holding better, but I still am praying that Western Europe will do more to welcome Ukraine into its sphere of influence and assure its independence from Russia.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

A: I cannot thank Ted enough for all he has done. He connected me to the president of Naxos to make the CD possible. He led me to Rong-Huey and James Buswell, who recorded the violin concerto so exquisitely. He studied my scores with profound intensity and marked them up using his trademark red and blue pencils, then efficiently conveyed my vision to the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. He needed only 20 hours total with soloists and orchestra to make a stunning CD. He painstakingly edited the CD and guided me through that process. He gently escorted me through every step. Then he worked with Naxos and the Fresno Phil to bring this release and world premiere to Fresno.

After a breathtaking Fresno Philharmonic season opener on Sept. 27, I am so eager to hear our own symphony bring “Kiev 2014” to life. And I am honored to be able to share our brand-new CD for the first time ever to my fellow Fresnans.

Fresno Philharmonic

Concert preview

  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18
  • Shaghoian Hall, 2770 E. International Ave.
  • www.fresnophil.org, 559-261-0600.
  • $25-$79
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