24. June 2009 · 8 comments · Categories: Links, Oboe

One thing leads to another. Having visited the NYPhil site I just blogged about, I thought, “I wonder about Bruno Labate…”. So I did a quick google, and found two tributes to the man. The second included this:

The final lesson with him was a near-disaster because I unexpectedly found myself with a reed problem. Conrad had given me some brief instruction on reed making not long before, and I was still floundering away at it. Shortly after the lesson started I unhappily discovered the fundamental truth that a reed which seems pretty good when you first make it doesn’t necessarily stay that way the next time it’s soaked and played. And that reed, unfortunately, was the only one I had. Near the end of that very uncomfortable half hour there was a knock at the studio door and one of the other students came in. He had an instrument with him on approval that Labate had promised to look over. The oboe was a battle-worn Selmer, and Labate immediately handed it to me to try out. It was a particularly untimely request. First, I was stuck with a reed I could just barely play; second, the Selmer was an open-hole model which I wasn’t at all used to; and third, the instrument seemed to be in pretty poor shape. As feared, about the only sounds which emerged when I tried to play it were squeaks and squawks. After enduring perhaps a half minute of this, Labate abruptly took the oboe from me. He removed the reed, briefly crowed it, made a wry face, stuck the reed back in the oboe and started to play. What followed was a revelation I shall never forget. For what may have been three or four minutes (I quite lost track of the actual time) he put the instrument through its paces, starting with scales, then arpeggios, then trills and ornamental figures, taking in its entire range, and finished up with a few brief excerpts from the symphonic literature. The technical facility, the beauty and variety of tone, and the musicality which radiated through it all just astounded me. And with my awful reed and that third-rate instrument yet! I had never heard anything like it, and the intimacy of that little studio added further to the breathtaking impression. Labate then handed the instrument back to the other fellow, shaking his head and saying, “Oboe notta so good.” Turning to me he added, “And you, da reed notta so good either!”

You can read the full tribute here, and another is found here


  1. Not that it’s in any way relevant to this story (I’d like to say something relevant, but I have no idea who that is), but you’re an oboist and I’m happy and want to shout it on the internet: I got accepted into the preparatory course for the conservatory! I’m really going to become a professional oboist 😀

    Yeah. that was it. Thanks for listening? xD

  2. Well congratulations! How wonderful for you … and what conservatory? Do tell!

  3. I don’t think you’d know it, the ArtEZ conservatory in Enschede, the Netherlands. Bit out of the way 😉 We (ha, we!) do have a lot of foreign students though, but they’re allmost all German, since it’s close to the border, and apparantly it’s harder to get into conservatory in Germany.
    And thanks!

  4. You’re right; I don’t know it. No surprise there, considering I never manage to get out of this country! Sigh.

    I take it it, from what you write, that it guarantees you will be a professional oboist somewhere then? (I wonder if there are a lot more opportunities there than here, where music is not doing so well.)

  5. There are no guarantees of a job of course, but if I finish conservatory I’m a professional oboist, even though I might not have a job then…
    Music is doing better here than in America anyway, I haven’t heard of orchestras stopping or having to make large cuts yet. It’s a bit harder, but they manage.

  6. Ah, got it! I thought maybe you were saying you had a job guarantee. (Wouldn’t that be nice!?)

    How are your audiences there? Full houses including people under 50?

  7. The last classical concert with a paying public I’ve been to was the st. Matthew passion, and it was indeed a full house. I was the only person under 20, perhaps the only under 30, and there where some people under 50, but not the majority.
    It’s okay, I guess, I’ve heard orchestras have budgets to mind now, but it’s not that bad, I think. They’ll get over it.

  8. I still remember hearing a story from my Mom (just after I had returned from a trip to Europe with a local orchestra) about someone who was traveling there and made enough money playing on the street (as I remember there was an oboe player involved) to stay in a very nice hotel (I think this was in Paris). I don’t think they had planned to finance their trip that way, or anything – my impression was that they were doing it for fun and maybe some extra cash. I can’t see that happening here, somehow. I think that’s a big part of the problem – we’ve gone out of our way to make it less accessible, or more snooty, or both.

    Plus, who can resist the beat of something like “Sing Sing Sing”?