November 22, 2013  |  Music

Composer Allan Blank passed away this week. He was a significant figure in the history of Third Wheel, and to remember him today, I’d like to tell you why.

I discovered Allan Blank’s music in Lincoln, Neb. I was performing on tour with an opera company and had some time off to wander the city. I stumbled across a sheet music store and spent some time browsing. I was always looking for new music for flute, clarinet and bassoon — I still am! So when I was in that section, I found Allan Blank’s “Four Bagatelles,” and decided to buy it.

After I returned home and brought the piece to rehearsal, we all became instant fans and decided to program the piece on a concert. You can listen to the first movement here:

In preparing for the concert, we wanted to learn more about the piece. I couldn’t find anything online, so I wanted to contact the composer directly. There wasn’t an email address listed for him anyway, so I contacted the publisher, who ended up putting us in touch. This was the start of our long relationship.

In our first phone call, he was absolutely charming. He was so glad we were playing the piece, and was eager to tell us about all the other music that he had written for trio and for each of our individual instruments. I promised to send him a recording of the concert, and we didn’t speak again for awhile.

We started to look for other trio pieces written by Mr. Blank and found several. This is incredibly unusual! Our instrumentation is so uncommon that it is usually a coup to find one piece written for our instrumentation by a given composer. We have five pieces of his in our library, and we haven’t even performed them all.

As our relationship continued, we learned that Mr. Blank’s charm extended to his correspondence. He wrote to us on a typewriter, and seemed to be quite a stamp collector. It was always so exciting to get mail from him.

Some correspondence from Mr. Blank. Typewritten, and many cool stamps!

Some correspondence from Mr. Blank. Typewritten, and many cool stamps!

Without a doubt, though, the best surprise was the first time that he sent us a new piece of music that he had written specifically for us. That was the first time that had happened in the history of Third Wheel, and it was such a great privilege. It’s called “Introduction and Two Movements.” The piece is incredibly difficult, but has all of the aspects that we love about Mr. Blank’s music: interesting harmonies, excellent knowledge of each of the instruments, unique rhythms, and a truly contemporary aesthetic that is still accessible to audiences.

There is a second piece that Mr. Blank wrote for us, setting a number of poems for our ensemble plus soprano. This is an unusual idea both for our ensemble and for woodwind trio, so it has taken us some time to work out the logistics. I regret that we were not able to premiere this piece before his passing, but I know that he will be proud once we do.

Here’s another one of our favorite pieces written by Allan Blank.