University of Ottawa Oboe Event
People don’t usually think of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) as a hub of oboe activity (compared to Toronto, Montréal or New-York!), but U.of O. professor and principle oboe at the National Arts Centre Orchestra Charles “Chip” Hamann organized a really fantastic event. With the additional sponsorship of Lorée and Gary Armstrong Woodwinds and the presence of very noteworthy guest professionals, this turned out to be quite a memorable weekend.
This is intended as an annual event, it took place last year and before, and will hopefully take place again next year: I really recommend people to attend! There were 3 principle focus points: U.of O. students, local amateurs and fostering a spirit of “oboe community”. Normally, these events focus almost exclusively on the first point, and it’s a real credit to Chip and co-organizer Angela Casagrande for having the broad vision to incorporate the rest.
Many oboes to try!
There is SO MUCH that can be said about the event – especially a striking concert by all professionals who participated – that it would be too easy to ramble on for hours. For this post, I’ll limit myself to a precious opportunity afforded by the event: trying and comparing over a dozen oboes! Gary Armstrong Woodwinds of Toronto came over to offer repair services and exhibit some of their stock for sale. These consisted of mostly Lorée (used and new – including 1 Royal), a good number of Howarths (new – including 1 XL), a used Strasser, a used Buffet Green Line, a used Covey and 2 new English Horns, a Fox and a Lorée and even 2 oboes for youngsters!
Reeds, weather and Climate Control
I had purposely brought some good and mediocre reeds because I wanted to see how these instruments handle the varying quality. On the 1st day, that went fine and I made some observations that I wanted to confirm on the 2nd day…… problem, on the 2nd day all reeds had 2 phases:
- In the morning, they were all rock hard, didn’t crow, didn’t wheeze, just hard!
- After some warming up, they seemed to behave reasonably the same: near concert grade! This made it difficult to really make a clear difference between one oboe and another.
Furthermore, the hall where the exhibition took place seemed to play a huge role in how these instruments were behaving: on the 1st day, I had tried and was really impressed by the tuning of almost all instruments…. then I tried mine as a standard…. mine was playing much more in tune and with better character than usual! So here’s a case where a favourable hall for performance makes it difficult to find the faults in the instruments!
Observations: Lorée afresh and other wonders
The following are my own opinions, highly coloured by my lack of experience and lost mastery of the instrument. Other people can have very different opinions which are fully valid. I’ll limit my observations to the positive attributes, because I don’t think I had enough time with the instruments to really qualify any flaws. The new instruments (Lorée and Howarth) were all easy to play in the altissimo register). None of them left me with any “super sensational” feeling making me want to rush out and change my instrument.
- All Lorées on exhibit seemed to … this is not a flaw at all … “frame” the sound. It is favourable to a consistent tone quality among different players. But it also makes me wonder why people feel they have more “freestyle expression” with it.
- There was an A-series and a C series: their legendary reputation is well deserved! Light weight yet full body sound. Not the most beautiful thing to see, but who cares! Really easy to play. Absolutely worth the trouble to rejuvenate the mechanics, these instruments deserve to be heard in public!
- The standard bore oboes were new or younger than the year 2000. Their tuning and stability were far improved compared to mine (1985).
- There were used and new AK bores: these exhibit much less restraint on blowing while maintaining the Lorée character.
- Royal: heavy, but that’s OK because it really “sits” its sound solidly. Extremely free blowing but dependable tuning throughout. It is superior to the standard models, but if money is an issue, the AK is really nice.
- All of them were very free blowing: no feeling of congestion anywhere or at any time.
- The little finger keys are especially comfortably positioned: I did not realize this had such an impact. You must try and compare to fully grasp the implications.
- The XL has all the good qualities of the Lorée Royal – choosing a favourite between the two is not easy at all.
- A pleasant enigma. The repair work was fine for reselling, so everything played well, but more work on rejuvenating it would prevent misconceptions.
- At first, I did not like a sense of resistance from it. But the more I played, the more that sense gave way to a kind of restful feeling.
- It has a beautiful quality I don’t know how to explain: it very gracefully transitions between notes with more fluidity than any other instrument I have tried to this day.
- Very light, yet fine sound and comfortable to play.
- This was a very pleasant surprise. I was expecting a flawed “junior” model, but I really have no criticisms against it whatsoever…. and I tried many tricks to make it sound bad: it never did.
- The one word that characterises it is “comfort”. Comfortable to blow, comfortable to hold, comfortable mechanisms.
- My hands are big, this instrument might be designed for smaller hands. Nonetheless, I think I could play it very happily.
- I think it is the ideal model for both beginner and serious students because you can sound fully professional with it.
- Buffet Crampon Green Line:
- I fully understand why people like this instrument.
- I remember, on the 1st day, remarking that this instrument is very forgiving on reeds: my mediocre reeds played very easily and in tune.
- Lorée players might not like it: difficult to explain, the 2 instruments “blow differently” – switching (alternating) between the 2 is not an easy task.
- This one is the very definition of “free blowing”.
- The tuning is fully dependable and it can sound almost any way you want.
- Children’s oboes
- There was a Cabard “petites mains” and a Howarth Junior oboe.
- Both had exquisite sound and flawless tuning.
- These are proof positive that oboes are NOT impossible instruments!!!
Surprize: instability on different notes!
Those of us who became solid players around the 1980’s and 1990’s were accustomed to special fingerings on most brands of oboe for the F# and G (sometimes the E-natural) with the 1st octave key. Some notes with the 2nd octave key might be flat or sharp or even unpredictable, but they would not “wobble” in the middle of a crescendo.
Strangely, some of the instruments I tried, I was very surprized that this “wobble” happened on either the 2nd octave key A or the “normal” F with the 1st octave key. Because my reeds all played more consistently on the 2nd day, I was not able to reproduce it, and I forgot which instruments. I just remember it was not the Strasser, the Royal or the XL.