The oboe gets lots of solo opportunities within the orchestra, but it’s rarer for it be showcased as a concerto instrument. It’s an instrument where technique has evolved so much in recent years, and the quality of the instruments themselves improved, that oboe players today sound a lot better than they did a century ago – so there isn’t a huge repertoire for the instrument.
Nowadays we can do a lot more with the oboe and its ‘new’ sound. I much prefer the sound of oboe players now compared those at the beginning of the twentieth century – it’s changed a lot!
I really like the Vaughan Williams concerto and it’s a piece I have a strong historical link to. I used to go to the high school that my father taught at, and I remember one day he played the concerto in the car home and I thought “ah, this is great!; what’s this?”. He told me it was the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto; I then started asking him to play it every day.
Then when I moved to London and met my teacher the Royal Academy, it turned out that this concerto was one of her favourites and that she had recorded it with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. This piece seems to follow me through life.
KEEP YOUR EARS OPEN FOR….
The first movement in particular is nice, with lovely harmonies, but probably my favourite part is in the third movement. Just before the final presto there’s a slow bit where the oboe plays in unison with some of the strings and the harmony is really beautiful. My mum is going to cry when she listens to that!
PREPARING FOR THE BIG DAY
You prepare differently according to the concerto. Different types of music require different approaches; it’s not only learning the notes, but you have to get to know the piece. Sometimes this means practising it, but it’s also important to listen to and compare recordings and look at the score to understand what the rest of the orchestra is doing. You have to understand the piece and the composer – then you can mean what you’re playing.
IT’S ALL IN THE REED
The reed is so important for the oboe. It’s really important that you can make good reeds because when you don’t have a good one it can transform the experience from enjoying yourself to and doing a beautiful thing to being in pain and hating every second.
To make a good reed takes a week or two, allowing the materials time to rest to make sure it will last when being played. If you’re in a rush you can make a few in a day, but I don’t know how many of them would work.
I’m putting good reeds aside at the moment so I have a good choice for performing the concerto, but weather conditions also have a big effect. It could be that today I have one that is working perfectly fine but tomorrow it won’t be working well enough, so it’s important to have a few choices to accommodate the delicate characters of the reeds!
Clara is performing as soloist in Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto with Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Waterloo on Thursday 13 March. Join us for free at 6.00pm, enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and escape the rush hour! Find out more here.
Find out more about Clara here.