for shakuhachi and string quartet (2016)
duration: 8’
GRT • 191

recording available
The Five Elements
Riley Lee and Enigma Quartet
ABC Classics, 2020


score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
Oxygen is vital to human life. It’s all around us. And perhaps there is oxygen on other planets. The Hubble telescope detected evidence of molecular oxygen on Jupiter’s moon Europa. But we haven’t been there and breathed it. Currently, the most distant air that we know we can breathe is found on the International Space Station that orbits Earth. The main source of that air is created by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. The latter is vented externally and the oxygen is vented into the cabin. By extension, this makes the ISS the most remote habitable zone currently accessible to humans.

This piece was commissioned by Riley Lee and Enigma Quartet with assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

“Next was Stuart Greenbaum’s Oxygen with Lee bubbling on the shakuhachi, darting in and out of the pulsating, scurrying strings. A strong flourish took us to a sharp ending.”
Lynne Lancaster, http://performing.artshub.com.au/, December 2017

“Stuart Greenbaum’s Oxygen is a case in point. There’s something rewarding in writing for a particular ensemble and that connection of composer and interpreters shines through in this work. Greenbaum is equally interested in earth and beyond, particularly beyond, as evidenced in many of his compositions which explore vistas from on high, way above the earth, his Leaving Earth but one of many examples. Oxygen was inspired in part by access to oxygen on the International Space Station, the furthest place above Earth currently known to have such a supply. In the aether. The piece is filled with both a sense of reflectiveness and the import of this phenomenon. However, equally, it is playful. It evokes the lightness of being that lies at the heart of oxygen’s essence. And so there are beautifully sustained harmonic passages with those intoxicating suspended and resolving chords which are interspersed with dextrously performed, intricately constructed melodic passages on shakuhachi, encouraging the melodic rubato Lee does so, so well. It’s beautifully written and performed. Greenbaum’s maturity as a composer is on full display in this work. Wonderful!”
Mandy Stefanakis, Music Trust, July 2021