Christopher Rouse is one of the USA's leading composers with a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy to prove it. As a teacher, he's left his mark on younger voices from Michael Torke to Nico Muhly and New Zealand's own Gareth Farr who he remembers as "an unforgettable character".

This week, the APO gives the first performance of Rouse's 2005 Oboe Concerto outside the US. With more than ten concertos on his CV, he admits to liking the form with its underlying concept of the one and the many.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be one versus the many. The Oboe Concerto is far from adversarial; I just wanted to write a piece on the gentle side, not one of my fangs-bared opuses."

While his 1992 Trombone Concerto explores what he describes as the grim side, he says the Oboe Concerto is more sensual and not meant to plumb the depths of the human condition as some other pieces of his do.


Rouse admits his oboe writing makes heavy demands on the soloist, in this case Bede Hanley, the APO's principal oboist, with its use of upper register and carefully controlled breathing.

"When you write a concerto, you don't want the soloist to feel that he or she could learn it in a night. Musicians want something a little more challenging that showcases their instrument, even if I do sometimes get carried away and push them to the limit."

He is concerned some composers forget the oboe is more agile than textbooks would have it, although his concerto's middle movement lets it be its old lyrical, romantic and cantabile self.

The angry roar of his 1984 Gorgon, likened by conductor Leonard Slatkin to The Rite of Spring on steroids, was a little like "shaking your fist at the heavens," Rouse says.

"But I wanted the Oboe Concerto to be pretty drawing on those capabilities of the orchestral percussion."

He is amusingly philosophical on the business of composing.

"I find it terribly difficult and not much fun whatsoever. But the only thing worse than composing is not composing and I feel impelled to do it."

He has become increasingly intuitive in his approach. Not for him all those "complex pre-planned diagrams that look impressive on a blackboard when you're talking to students but don't necessarily sound very good."

Rouse is proud to quote fellow composer John Adams on his website who praised him as "one of the few whose music will last."

"As for longevity, that's out of my hands so I don't think terribly much what happens after I've gone. I just write the best music I can and hope it will be played.

Come Thursday, Bede Hanley with the APO under Giordano Bellincampi, do just that.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Scottish Symphony
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 8pm