Oboe Optimism


I’m probably not supposed to mention this yet, so I will just whisper into the internet that I am going to be writing a new concerto for Celia Craig, principal oboe of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, which is being supported by a consortium of Australian orchestras. It was therefore very timely to learn a few days ago that Celia was visiting the UK, although catching up with her involved a speedy tour of the London music colleges where she was giving workshops.

Visiting Greenwich and the former seafaring buildings of Trinity College felt appropriate on a morning when sheets of rain and snow lashed the River Thames right beside us. I felt for the six young women students who were trying to coax warmth into their oboes in the chilly Peacock Room. Celia however seemed to have brought some of the sun of Australia in her relaxed, collegial teaching style. There seemed no angle she could not cover, and a 360-degree approach is the one to have when considering the oboe, whose specific repertoire is so slender; during the workshop we were, for instance, getting seriously excited by the York Bowen Sonata. However the oboist’s workload is also coupled to a vast generalised library of baroque music, likened by Celia to the Reader’s Digest, which was originally expected to be playable on any treble instrument. Remembering my own oboe-playing days as involving a lot of physical effort, I was particularly interested by her seemingly minimal comments about posture which brought about immediate transformations in the students’ playing style and personal demeanour.

Being around a whole lot of oboes (those pictured were brought along to TCM by Howarths) reminded me, now that I don’t have to pick one up and play it, what a beautiful visual object the instrument is, with all that delicate silverwork (several extra keys have become standard since I started to play) set in dark hardwoods. Brexit enthusiasts will be delighted to learn that here in Britain we have our own entirely British method of oboe keywork and fingering – the Thumb Plate system– which no-one else in the world uses.

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JUDITH WEIR

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