Spanish oboist Ramón Ortega Quero — aka Ramon Ortega — has been offered the position of Principal Oboe of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
He will take over the position vacated by Ariana Ghez earlier this year if he chooses to accept the offer.
[UPDATE: 2 NOV 2017: An earlier version of this article stated that Mr. Ortega will be the next LA Phil Principal Oboe. All is Yar has recently learned that he has not yet accepted and that while he is seriously considering the offer, his acceptance is not necessarily a foregone conclusion]
The native of Granada is currently Principal Oboe of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Mariss Jansons, Principal Conductor) and a member of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (Daniel Barenboim, founder and conductor). He has regularly appeared as a soloist and chamber musician in concerts throughout Europe, including performances of the Strauss Oboe Concerto, Marceau de Salon by Johan Wenzel Kalliwoda, and the world premiere of Legacy, an oboe concerto by Oscar Navarro in both symphony orchestra version and wind band arrangement.
His discography includes music by J. S. Bach (the Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060, with Janine Jansen), Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and many others. His most recent release features music by J. S. Bach that was originally written for other instruments and arranged for oboe by Mr. Ortega himself.
He is undoubtedly well qualified, yet his hiring will likely raise at least a few eyebrows. While top-tier American orchestras have been hiring international musicians in most other positions, oboe chairs have remained a bastion of musicians steeped in the “American school” of oboe playing that traces its lineage back to Marcel Tabuteau, longtime pedagogue at the Curtis Institute of Music and Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra under both Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. When prominent foreign-born oboists have been hired, such as Liang Wang of the New York Philharmonic, they still have studied in that system.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, however, decided to eschew that institutionalized rigidity, opting for a more open-minded approach. Back in early summer, the orchestra’s three other woodwind principals — Denis Bouriakov (flute), Boris Allakhverdyan (clarinet), and Whitney Crockett (bassoon) — talked about their approach to the Principal Oboe auditions which were, at the time, still a few months away.
“Traditionally, American orchestras don’t invite European oboe players, but we felt that was wrong,” said Mr. Bouriakov. “Every other instrument audition we have pretty much has a world-wide population coming to take the audition. So we took the step, unusual for an American orchestra, to invite some European players as well.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re looking for a European,” he emphasized. “We just thought to have the choice and to hear them back-to-back and to see what we feel would be the right style for the orchestra. There are many great American players too. To me, the “school” by itself is not so important, it’s more the particular player and their sound, their phrasing, how they use their vibrato, and things like that. It’s more important than how they cut reeds.”
Mr. Allakhverdyan concurred. “Yes, European school playing and American school playing can be very different – apples and oranges. We want to see as broad a spectrum of styles and players as possible. Maybe we’ll go with a Japanese player, who knows? But we want the option regardless of where they come from.”
Mr. Crockett compared their approach to what most American orchestras have typically looked for, particularly given the Chicago Symphony is once again holding auditions for the same position just a few weeks after the LA Phil did. “I don’t think there’s going to be just one person that both orchestras have to have. I’d like to think that if the best player happens to be not right-down-the-pipe American-style oboe playing, we’d be more open to it than Chicago. And I don’t mean to dis American-style oboe playing; I’ve only ever played full-time with American oboe players. But there’s a possibility that we could hear something [that we like] that another orchestra would say, ‘That’s just way too unorthodox.’ ”
According to reliable sources outside the LA Phil, Mr. Ortega was one of four “super-finalists” still being considered at the last round of the auditions, with the other three coming from the American oboe tradition and playing in American orchestras. After the auditions were completed, Mr. Ortega was the only musician invited back for additional rehearsals with the LA Phil. After that, the orchestra was obviously confident enough that his style would fit with the orchestra to offer him the position.
No word yet on when he would officially join the orchestra. If/when he arrives, Mr. Ortega will be the second Spaniard to take a principal chair in the LA Phil after having held the same position in a German orchestra, the first being Principal Trombone David Rejano.
- Portraits of Ramón Ortega Quero: Steven Haberland
- CD cover: courtesy of Berlin Classics