Sunday, October 28

Canadian oboist in New-York, part 1. (Laubin)

(Mes excuses de ne pas avoir inclus une version française, mais l’article est trop long et je suis trop fatigué pour le traduire. Le sujet principal de l’article, le hautbois Paul Laubin, mérite d’être exposé le plus tôt possible après mon voyage à New-York et le plus complètement possible.)

Pictures of the Laubin Establishment and personnel are by Laurence Bartone were taken from his website
Great American Artisans (please visit by clicking here  Pointing up).

As you can see in these posts (click title to visit):

for the past couple of years, even before this blog began, I have been seeking opportunities to try oboes of different manufacturers, especially those that are more difficult to get in Canada.

For all kinds of reasons, I was unable to go to the IDRS conferences or visit New York when Ludwig Frank or Marigaux paid a visit. So when my wife was invited to an exclusive photography event in New York City, it made perfect sense to go with her and try to visit the providers of the world's best instruments and when we found a hotel that allows us to bring our dogs, it became a no-brainer to drive over! In fact, driving ended-up costing much less than tickets for air travel or train; that’s apart from the cost of boarding the dogs at a kennel and the sadness of being separated from them.

robinDesHautboisGrandCentralStationRoad from Ottawa to Manhattan:

Typically, driving from Ottawa to Manhattan is approximately 8 hours, but having brought the dogs with us, it was necessary to stop every couple of hours for them to relieve themselves and also move their legs: otherwise, their discomfort can be extreme to the point of cruelty. Besides, with my problems of chronic pain, sitting for long time spans hurts my back considerably, and that’s apart from the natural strains from speed and road manoeuvres.

Entering New-York after dark and after nearly 10 hours of driving was frightening. We missed the exit for the Lincoln tunnel and ended up in a couple of shady gas stations near an enormous sports stadium (the Yankee stadium?). Luckily, the station attendants were very kind and helpful and provided trustworthy alternate routes to get to our hotel.

Thus began our 1st adventure in New-York: my wife as a pro. photographer and myself, obsessed with the oboe. I was most fortunate to be able to visit Laubin inc. and Innoledy (visit here ), who imports some outstanding instruments. For this post, I only have the energy left over to describe my visit to Laubin. I will give account of my visit to Innoledy next time.

oboeEHThe Laubin oboe

About years ago, I got my Lorée rejuvenated by David Teitelbaum, finisher at A. Laubin inc. (Pointing up). His work was simply miraculous, significantly improving the sound, responsiveness and stability of my instrument. Ever since, I have been ravenous to get information, or better yet, the chance to play on a real Laubin instrument.

Rolland Dupin is well established as one of the world 's most exclusive oboe makers, but even Dupin's waiting list is only 2 years at worst.... Paul Laubin has people waiting for up to 10 years for his (15 years for English Horns) - even though new Laubin oboes are possibly the most expensive in the world! (Yes, my name is on the list!) Some of North-America’s greatest musicians, and also in other parts of the world, including Liang Wang and Thomas Stacey (both currently at the NY Philharmonic Orchestra) choose Laubin.

Glorious moments with Laubin:

You might remember the 1980’s, when Charles Dutoit took over the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) and gave it international stardom: their recordings of Ravel’s Bolero and other impressionist repertoire gave the OSM a popularity that dared to rival Berlin under Karajan! No kidding, records were being sold worldwide and invitations by the most prestigious concert halls had the OSM touring the whole world with rave reviews from the sternest critics.

Ted Baskin (Laubin Oboe) with OSM

Theodore (Ted) Baskin was the principal oboe at the time and he played a Laubin oboe. His performance of Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel revolutionized the sound concept for oboes in Montréal, the whole province of Québec and possibly much of eastern North-America. In fact, shortly after and for a few years to come, the World Youth Orchestra would typically have 2 or 3 out of 4 oboes coming from Québec! Such was the impact of a Laubin oboe played by a musician who could do it justice in an orchestra from “back home”!

Trying the Laubin oboe

Such a coveted manufacturer would be well justified to close his doors to all except prestigious professionals: a simple amateur and washed-out musician like myself doesn’t have much to offer. But instead, they welcomed my visit and even went out of their way to make things as easy as possible for me. In fact, they even lent me one of their reeds (the only American scrape I ever had that actually crowed correctly!) so I could better understand the dynamic design for their instrument.

Because my wife and I did not know New York at all, I walked with her to her workshop in the morning... then I realized I did not know how to get to Laubin’s place, even though they had sent instructions for the train! After asking people – New Yorkers are very kind and helpful – I found my way to Penn station and the subway lines: very big, very complex, very crowded and somewhat intimidating.... the Montréal Metro (subway) is a country park in comparison!

After a few easy subway cars and a 90 minute train ride, I found my way to Peekskill, N.Y., where Laubin has his shop. Then, only a short walk uphill to his place: but after all that travelling and mental stress in 2 days, by the time I sat down to soak my reeds, I was exhausted! New-York was unusually warm and humid, due to an approaching tropical storm: that made my reeds terribly open, with a poor crow. Squeezing the blades only helped a little bit. A lot of warming-up would have helped, but time was short and travel fatigue really inhibited control of my embouchure.

wholeShopWhen I got there, I found them all completely devoted to their meticulous work, leaving me to test the instruments in a part of the workshop with a bench and chair laid out for visitors. Laubin’s workshop is a simple place that shows love for the art and craft of making quality instruments above all else. When I was done, we had a very pleasant chat about the state of oboes now, their evolution over the past generation and the musicians we knew in common.

I was allowed to try an oboe that was literally 1 day old Hot smile and given more time with another from around 1990, overhauled to be sold on consignment. I was even allowed to play on one of the rarest in the modern oboe family: a Laubin oboe d’amore!

  • The overhauled instrument was fully as good as the new: a testament to Laubin’s standards and workmanship, no difference was to be found with the new!
  • This instrument is ALIVE:
    • The “living” quality of the instrument is hard to explain if you have not experienced it, but this one really left an impact on me.
    • Absolutely perfect tuning with NO lip-work involved: I am so used to compensating for flaws with embouchure and special fingerings, that this preference for relaxation caught me off guard!
  • Made for the American reed & playing style, nonetheless full dynamic range: even with my reeds, I could play as softly or as loudly as I wanted.
  • Happy curiosity: they explained to me that the bore is smaller than in my Lorée. I would have expected it, as a result, to resist to my air pressure more. Instead, I found it to fully accept my blowing and there was no sign congestion in any notes, anywhere!
  • The bell looks different than most others: it almost looks like it has a little bulge in the middle. In any case, it lets the lowest notes speak as smoothly as whipped buttermilk!
  • It has no 3rd octave key, and it does not need one! The altissimo register is on par with, or better than, all other instruments I have tried to this date.
  • One word: comfort!
    • The keywork is designed by and for small hands, but it is fully suited to my large, square Polish hands.
    • The keywork is surely the most responsive and ergonomically well organized of any brand I have ever tried.
    • I was specially struck by the auxiliary C (banana) key which is easy to find with short fingers and still out of the way.
    • The left-hand little-finger keys require little movement and work wonderfully.
  • Oboe d'amore: WOW!
    • Don't even enquire about ordering one: there are only 3 in existence! One of which is owned by Thomas Stacey of the New-York Philharmonic.
    • My own experience consists of only a few Lorée, a Buffet and a Fox English Horn as well as one Lorée d'amore. The Laubin d'amore (built by Paul himself) yields a more open, radiant and rich tone than any instrument I have ever played before except one antique Italian EH with a Triébert key system. The antique EH and Laubin’s d’amore were on par in terms of large and living tone qualities: apparently rare in the instrument market over here.

Who should buy a Laubin oboe?

This is a rough question. Alfred Laubin started making oboes in the 1930’s because quality oboes were practically unavailable in North-America at the time. This started a wave of demand by professionals who demand exquisite care to detail and striving for perfection in terms of an oboe for the American tradition, which touches and inspires musicians on all continents. This demand continues to this day: Paul Laubin takes his father’s concerns to heart, as does his assistant, David Teitelbaum.

Because there are so few of these instruments, and because they truly deserve to be heard in public, they might be best left to professionals who have the experience, skill and taste to appreciate them to the full extent of their worth. On top of allowing the oboist to "blend" in the orchestra, they also afford full power and expressive dynamics with mechanics that aid virtuosic technique rather than require it. But because they are so easy to play, I would like to see more of them in the hands of promising students: perhaps this would increase pressure on other prolific companies to improve on some the well known flaws for which fingering tricks are devised and reeds are blamed. If you are an amateur or student, try finding a used Laubin and having it rejuvenated by David Teitelbaum at (visit here Pointing up): easily worth the expense, I am confident beyond any doubt you will be fully happy you did!

David Teitelbaum
Paul Laubin
Alex Laubin

Pictures of the Laubin Establishment and personnel are by Laurence Bartone were taken from his website
Great American Artisans (please visit by clicking here Pointing up ).


Anonymous said...

I know nothing about oboes, but I enjoyed reading this. Thanks!

RobinDesHautbois said...

Well thank you for reading and the compliment!
I hope this starts a pleasant adventure getting to know this fantastic instrument!

Mary said...

The recording I think is when Ted Baskin had Coveys or Lorees...I could be wrong. Check out Bizet Symphony in C of OSM or any of St.Louis' recordings with former principal oboist of OSM Peter Bowman!

Thanks for the web info Robin!

RobinDesHautbois said...

Thanks Mary....
There was something special in the simple styles of those days.

I think I own Peter Bowman's old gouging machine for oboe reeds! I got it from the late but great Nick Ayoub (sax prof at Conservatoire de Montréal) who got it from Bowman or Berman or Baumann..... I've been talking to many to get the story straight, but former OSM sounds right.

Unknown said...

You may be interested to know Ted Baskin lived for a time in New Zealand. He was principal in the Auckland Philharmonia ( as it was then) and also sometimes was called in as an extra with the NZSO. He was a magic player even then (Mid 1970s), and to hear him live was a joy. I can remember being bowled over by a performance of The Silken Ladder...which in my mind, has not been beaten. I met him very briefly once, but never had the pleasure of playing with him.

RobinDesHautbois said...

Thanks for the info, Geoffrey!
Ted Baskin strikes me as not your average American-school player. His sound really marked the Montréal Symphony Orchestra in the 1980's and 1990's. It's much more "present" and capable of the whole dynamic range and power of articulation than I am used to hearing from the USA, that is, until recently.