And it was a mystery why Abbado put the orchestra’s superstar principal oboist, Elizabeth Koch, on ice for the Brahms. (She sat with the audience to listen.)

In her place, associate principal Yvonne Powers Peterson got the second movement’s long, tender oboe solo that’s perhaps the most moving and eloquent melody Brahms ever wrote. Peterson played it with warmth and elegance —- we’ve got a strong oboe section, that’s for certain.

I read it here.

It does seem odd that the principal oboist wouldn’t play the Brahms, since that oboe solo is so wonderful and clearly a big time solo. But I wonder who did the choosing here. Does the conductor make those decisions, or did Ms. Koch opt out for some reason? There are times a principal oboist might say, “I really want to do “x” and so I just feel it best to skip out on “y”.” I wonder.

I have a story about the Brahms. It’s funny. Now.

Years ago we were doing the Brahms Violin Concerto along with a few other works. I was on English horn and third oboe, so I wasn’t needed for the Brahms. (I can’t even remember what the other works on the program were now.) At our third and final concert the principal oboist (a sub who was filling in on the set) didn’t show up. We waited a bit, but finally things had to get going. Because the first work on the program needed all three of us they reversed the first two works, and the Brahms was now first. Yours truly suddenly was asked to fill in on principal. Whoa. Okay then. Breathe deep. Freak out for a short time. And jump in. The conductor was encouraging and helpful throughout the first movement. I was really enjoying myself, and entirely geared up and confident to play the second movement at that point. It’s a piece I’d played before, I knew the solo quite well, and I was no longer nervous.

No. Such. Luck.

Between the first and second movements the subbing principal oboist showed up. He walked in, stood in front of me, and waited for me to move. I looked up at the conductor who just kind of shrugged and looked at me apologetically. How embarrassing to stand up and leave the stage after that. I wonder if the audience thought I’d been canned. It was humiliating.

Turned out that the oboist insisted on coming on, and the stage manager thought it best.

Maybe it was. Maybe that’s how those things are handled. I dunno. But it sure wasn’t a high point in m career. Later the maestro apologized to me.

The subbing principal oboist never apologized. He never even said one word to me, in fact.

4 Comments

  1. Just to confirm, the sub was late but still insisted on playing? And both the conductor and stage manager caved? I’m pretty non-confrontational, so I suppose I might’ve done the same, but it still seems pretty un-perfeshunal to me.

    Did they at least dock his pay for missing the first movement?

  2. Yeah, he still insisted on playing. And the stage manager sent him out. The conductor couldn’t really do anything at that point … or at least it would have looked odd, in front of the audience.

    I don’t believe they docked his pay. The second oboist had given him the wrong time, so they didn’t blame the sub. (Although it was really the concert manager’s job to supply dates and times, so I don’t know what happened with that.)

    Such is life. It was years ago. I can laugh at it now. Then I was actually not even angry. Just sort of flustered.

  3. Not that you are bitter. Oh, no… 🙂

    (And not that I’d blame you if you are!!!)

    Dan

    (Who hopes he wasn’t the “stage manager” in the story but realizes there is a good chance he was.)

  4. Actually I’m not bitter. It only hit me recently that what I had to do — the leaving bit — was humiliating. Funny how that works. I’m just really really slow. At the time I was merely really, really disappointed because I was looking forward to the solo.

    And no … it wasn’t you. Come to think of it, it was the concert manager (remember Tim?) who made the decision to send the oboist on. I’m going to guess you were stage manager then (were you stage manager when Tim was concert manager?), but I can’t say for sure. I can’t remember the year or anything else. Probably a good thing. 🙂