The last time we talked in detail about the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s attempts to find a new Principal Oboe was three years ago. The previous person in the job, Ramon Ortega, managed to begin and end his tenure in the short span of six weeks [to understand why, go HERE]. The orchestra then held open auditions and found a potential replacement; however, no hire was made.
So, now that COVID-19 shutdowns are mostly in the past and auditions have resumed, what efforts have been made to continue the search since then? Is the orchestra close to hiring someone?
The short answer: I’m betting they are.
To get more detailed answers, it’s first useful to know that when open auditions fail to yield a winner, the orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between management and musicians allows the LA Phil to hand-pick specific candidates to audition. These closed auditions usually have two parts:
- A private component including some combination of playing solo works, chamber music, and doing orchestral excerpts (solo, with other players, and/or the full orchestra);
- A trial with the orchestra during a public performance in which the Music Director (MD) is conducting.
Those trials for Principal Oboe have been happening this season.
Second, it’s worth mentioning that when any principal chair is vacant, the orchestra is more likely to temporarily promote from within than to bring in guests:
- The associate principal usually takes over as acting principal until the vacancy is filled; however, Marion Arthur Kuszyk (Associate Principal Oboe) has been on sabbatical this season.
- Next, the second chair could get bumped up to acting principal. This was the situation in 2006 when Catherine Ransom Karoly (then Second Flute) played first chair for an extended period when both principals of her section (Anne Diener Zentner and Janet Ferguson) left the orchestra in quick succession; yet that hasn’t happened this season because Anne Marie Gabriele (Second Oboe) has also been away from the orchestra.
That means that in the 2021/22 season, the LA Phil’s first oboe chair has mostly been occupied by guests from outside the orchestra. These visitors have included noteworthy names: Richard Woodhams (legendary retired Principal, Philadelphia Orchestra), Frank Rosenwein (Principal, Cleveland Orchestra), Jonathan Fischer (Principal, Houston Symphony). Local musicians including Lelie Resnick (Principal, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) and Martha Kleiner, among others, have taken turns in the seat as well.
So is every guest a potential hire? No.
Remember, only the guest principals performing with the LA Phil while Gustavo Dudamel, the orchestra’s Music and Artistic Director, is on the podium are potentially on trial. That narrows the likely candidates to seven musicians so far. They are (including the dates and programs they played):
- Nathan Hughes: October 14-17, 2021
(Schoenberg — Verklarte Nachte; Strauss — Four Last Songs and Death and Transfiguration)
The MET Orchestra Principal is no stranger to the Los Angeles Philharmonic: he was a finalist in the 2017 auditions which led to Ramon Ortega being hired, and the media section of his website indicates that he played with the orchestra on the Grammy-winning Deutsche Grammophon recording of Mr. Dudamel conducting Mahler’s 8th Symphony. He has also been guest principal for the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic, and he was in the running for full-time principal jobs with at least one of those.
- Paul Lueders: October 21-24, 2021
(Montgomery — Strum; Mackey — Shivaree: Fantasy for Trumpet and Orchestra (world premiere); Mahler — Symphony No. 4)
He is the Principal Oboe of the San Antonio Symphony. The aforementioned Ms. Gabriele, the LA Phil’s current Second Oboe, was one of his instructors at the New England Conservatory. He has appeared as guest principal with Boston Symphony and Baltimore Symphony.
- Mary Lynch: April 14-16, 2022
(Beethoven — Fidelio)
The Principal Oboe of the Seattle Symphony was previously Second Oboe with the Cleveland Orchestra. She has also been guest principal with the San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
- Dwight Parry: April 28-30, 2022
(Adès — Dante (US Premiere of complete score, LA Phil commission))
The Ventura, CA, native did his undergraduate work at the USC Thornton School of Music where he studied with former LA Phil Principal Oboe David Weiss and retired LA Chamber Orchestra Principal Allen Vogel. He went on to earn his Master of Music at the Cleveland Institute. Since 2007, he has been Principal Oboe of the Cincinnati Symphony; before that, he held the same position at the San Diego Symphony. He has also played guest principal with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Korean Broadcasting Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie of Berlin.
- Ricardo Barbosa: May 5-8, 2022
(Nante — El Rió de Luz (world premiere, LA Phil commission); Ginastera — Estancia; Stravinsky — The Rite of Spring)
The Brazilian musician is currently Principal Oboe with the São Paulo State Symphony. He is a known commodity to LA Phil Principals Denis Bouriakov (flute), Boris Allakhverdyan (clarinet), Whitney Crockett (bassoon), and Andrew Bain (horn) because he replaced Mr. Ortega as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Wind Quintet when they toured Australia in Fall 2019. I wrote about it at the time HERE, and one brief review had nothing but praise for them (HERE), including Mr. Barbosa.
- Eugene Izotov: May 12-13, 2022
(Lorenz — Todo Terreno (world premiere, LA Phil commission); Revueltas — La noche de los Mayas; Stravinsky — Petrushka)
He is, without a doubt, the most accomplished of the candidates, having held titled chairs in multiple US orchestras: Kansas City Symphony (Principal, 1995-96) → San Francisco Symphony (Associate Principal, 1996-2002) → MET Opera Orchestra (Principal, 2002-2006) → Chicago Symphony (Principal, 2006-14) → San Francisco Symphony (Principal, 2014-present). He has performed as guest principal in Los Angeles before, and if unconfirmed reports are correct, he was actually the leading candidate to become LA Phil Principal Oboe in 2005/06
but turned it down in favor of the Chicago job(the chair eventually went to Ariana Ghez) [UPDATE: additional sources have confirmed that he played with the orchestra and was a leading candidate, but also state that he was never offered the job]. His decision to leave the CSO in 2014 to return to the SFS, this time as Principal, was noteworthy to say the least. Will he make another blockbuster move, this time south on the 101?
- Marc Lachat: May 14-15, 2022
(Ortiz — Altar de cuerda (world premiere, LA Phil commission); Stravinsky – The Firebird (1911), complete)
The Frenchman is Principal Oboe of the Basel Symphony and permanent member of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. From 2010 to 2012, he was Principal Oboe of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. He’s also played with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.
Of these seven, I understand that Dwight Parry is not actually a candidate for the full-time LA Phil Principal Oboe, which leaves six musicians vying for the job.
Some things to mention:
- Let’s get the obvious out of the way: each finalist is a fantastic musician who could do the job; there’s no way they would’ve been invited if that weren’t true.
- Four of the six (Ms. Lynch and Messrs. Hughes, Izotov, and Lueders) are from the so-called “American School” of oboe playing which began with Marcel Tabuteau in the Philadelphia Orchestra and neighboring Curtis Institute of Music; Mr. Lachat was trained in France and Mr. Barbosa in Germany.
- Regular All is Yar readers will recall that there was much gnashing of teeth among certain circles of American oboists when the German-trained Mr. Ortega was hired in LA. Those same people have been downright apoplectic ever since the Philadelphia Orchestra, that quintessential American School orchestra, hired Frenchman Philippe Tondre to take over from Mr. Woodhams.
- On that topic, click HERE to read a reminder of what the three extant LA Phil woodwind principals previously said about choosing a player trained in one country versus another.
- I’ve heard five of the six oboists play, with Ms. Lynch being the exception.
- Given that Mr. Dudamel still has two weeks on the podium this season, it’s theoretically possible that there are more candidates still to play, but word on the street is that there won’t be.
- I’m willing to bet that more than one of the six has been — or will be — qualified by the orchestras audition committee. Note that by “qualified,” I’m referring to the term that is roughly equivalent to a nomination; the Music Director makes the ultimate hiring decision but can only choose among the qualified candidates. This means that any player, regardless of school or style, cannot get the job unless both Mr. Dudamel and audition committee approve.
So given all of that and without being told who, if anyone, has been qualified or what Mr. Dudamel’s preferences may be, here’s what I think is going to happen . . .
Bold Prediction #1: Mr. Izotov and Mr. Lachat are going to be the Top Two candidates
Why? The short version is that they were the only two who made my ears perk up as much as they do when Joe Pereira plays timpani, Bob deMaine plays cello, Teng Li plays viola, Andrew Bain plays horn, or any of the other LA Phil Principals do their thing. More importantly, I’m not the only one who thinks that way.
- Of the three American school players I heard, Mr. Izotov was head and shoulders above the rest. His tone and style were consistent with that approach to oboe playing, yet there was a distinctiveness to his sound; while Messrs. Hughes and Lueders are certainly talented players, their sound was more generic. Moreover, he showed some interesting variety in tone and timbre between the Revueltas and the Stravinsky. If the choice were to be an American school player, he’s the leading candidate.
- I like Mr. Hughes’ playing, and apparently Mr. Dudamel and orchestra do too, at least enough to keep asking him back to play with them for one reason or another. This has given them many occasions to hear and evaluate Mr. Hughes’ playing, so if they collectively wanted him to have the job, it seems odd that they’d invite such a large pool of players against whom to compare him. It reminds me of what happened for Principal Bassoon after David Breidenthal retired: between open auditions and the invite-only rounds, a mix of Principal and Associate Principal players from the Chicago Symphony, National Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Diego Symphony played with the orchestra over the course of two years; then Mr. Crockett, the MET Opera Orchestra’s Principal at the time, played the final trial and you could tell that people on stage and in the audience reacted differently to his playing; he was offered the job soon after.
- As previously mentioned, I didn’t hear Ms. Lynch’s trial with the orchestra. That said, I also didn’t hear as much buzz about her time with the orchestra as I did after Mr. Izotov’s trial.
- Despite both being schooled in Europe, Mr. Barbosa and Mr. Lachat’s sound aren’t as easily lumped together as the other four. German-style playing is typically at the opposite end of the spectrum from Americans, being much brighter and more nasal-sounding. with French playing being somewhere in the middle. This is, admittedly, a gross generalization with which oboe players can feel free to poke holes into.
- That said, Mr. Lachat’s playing was easily the most interesting to me of all six. The panoply of timbres he used combined with the beautiful phrasing he demonstrated during his more exposed passages was impressive, and his ensemble playing seemed to match perfectly with the rest of the oboes, the woodwinds in general, and the orchestra overall. It was certainly not an “American” sound, and those wanting that probably wouldn’t be happy. But if the LA Phil’s orchestral players and MD are open to something different from the traditional Philly/Tabuteau ideal, he’s the guy.
I would be ecstatic if either Mr. Izotov or Mr. Lachat joined the LA Phil. Ultimately, however, only one of them can get the job.
Choosing between them on purely musical bases is a bit of apples and oranges given stylistic differences; therefore, maybe extra-musical considerations — salary, intra-organizational personnel dynamics, inter-orchestral politics — may become a factor. For example, how would Esa-Pekka Salonen, San Francisco Symphony Music Director and LA Phil Conductor Laureate, feel about having one of his current orchestra’s players getting poached by his previous orchestra?
Assuming both get qualified (and I’d be incredulous if that didn’t happen), it’ll come down to Mr. Dudamel’s preferences. If history is a guide given Mr. Ortega being given the job previously, he certainly appreciates the European sound — not necessarily better than American-style playing, but at least as much. It’s also worth mentioning that he recently accepted another big job leading the Paris Opera, so I’d doubt he has objections to the French school. Net net, that leads me to the following conclusion:
Bold Prediction #2: I think Marc Lachat will be offered the Principal Oboe chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
We’ll see if I’m right or wrong soon enough. [UPDATE: it turns out I was correct]
Care to chime in? Do you think I hit it on the nose, am completely bonkers, or perhaps somewhere in between? Hit me up in the comments.
- Comings and goings at the LA Phil (Spring 2022 edition, part 1 of 2): five empty chairs filled, including new Tuba and Associate Principal Bass (May 20, 2022)
- Comings and goings at the LA Phil and beyond (Fall 2019 edition): new CEO, harp, and violins; a Principal Oboe update; plus much more (October 3, 2019)
- Chatting with the LA Phil woodwind principals Whitney Crockett, Denis Bouriakov, and Boris Allakhverdyan (October 13, 2017)
- Paul Lueders: courtesy of the San Antonio Symphony website
- Marc Lachat: courtesy of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra website
- all others: courtesy of the respective artist’s website