Thursday, November 1

Canadian Oboist in New-York, part 2. (Marigaux, Mönnig and Howarth)

Mes excuses de ne pas inclure une version française, l’article est trop long et le sujet mérite se faire exposer en entier. Je crois que je préfère traduire et en faire des articles complèts séparés (celui de Laubin aussi) que j’annoncerai, le temps venu.

hurricaneSandyHurricane Sandy

During my visit to New-York, while my wife was on her 2nd day at the pro. photography event, I saw on TV that a super-storm was expected in the next few days... This was Hurricane Sandy and I listened carefully to see if we'd be able to drive home. We were lucky: we left on Saturday at noon and NYC closed its subways by the time we got home. Luckily, Laubin and Innoledy were not adversely affected, but the State of New Jersey (a big part of our drive home) was devastated. Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims of this storm.

Why do I own a Lorée?

Thinking back on it, my own Lorée is the only instrument I could possibly have purchased back in 1985, as I was auditioning for the Conservatoire de Montréal. It was on the only recommendation I could get and the only professional brand really available in Eastern-Canada at the time (if we rule-down Selmer) because stores in Montréal simply didn’t know of Laubin and going to N.Y. was not really an option. So I had the choice of 2 Lorées in Montréal and I took the one that eliminated the risk of cracking!

But my Conservatoire teacher played Marigaux and some students who went to Paris for the summer would come back with Marigaux or Rigoutat. Still, Lorée was considered top of the line, so the thought of trying other brands to help sound and tuning never occurred to anyone! Now, more than 25 years later, I was able to try brand new and very old Lorées (before 1970), an old Strasser and new Howarths from the collection at Gary Armstrong Woodwinds (see post here Pointing up ) and this really opened my eyes to the effects of an instrument well suited to the individual player.

innoledyBannerInnoledy: a portal to oboe-istic discovery!

When Innoledy opened shop, and began to stock Marigaux, Mönnig and Howarth, the temptation to go visit became simply irresistible! Tong Cui built-up Innoledy (“Innovation in Melody”) to import the world’s finest and also to provide a platform by which the manufacturers can meet and discuss with the musicians: innoledyLocationthus manufacturers can better understand the needs of the players while players can get to know instruments that would otherwise be almost fully out of reach. To help in this objective, he often hosts events where famous soloists (along with those who make their instruments) play, teach and share with anyone who wishes to attend.

For me, contact with the manufacturers started long before through the internet. But the ability to try the instruments remained elusive, until Innoledy began to import them.

Innoledy is set-up in a posh part of Manhattan, accessible to everyone and providing both a very safe location and an inspiring setting. The instruments in the show-room are classy and sophisticated; which is accentuated by the atmosphere provided by the location. The same way that one might not trust buying a Ferrari in a flea-market, the show-room, repair shop and highly expert staff make Innoledy a choice place to try these choice instruments, which are hard to find elsewhere on the East Coast.

Criteria for oboe testing:

Everywhere I tried instruments, be it at the U. of O. Oboe Event (here Pointing up), Montréal stores (here Pointing up) or at Laubin (here Pointing up), I used the same criteria:

  1. Tuning: I do not mean A=438, 440 or 442, but rather how octaves, fifths and generally how notes tune in relation with each other across the whole range of the instrument.
  2. Stability of all notes during crescendi/diminuendi (both fast and slow) as well as with different articulations. Recall: I find most Lorées to “wobble” some notes when you least expect (or want) it – my own Lorée was greatly improved in this respect when Laubin re-voiced it.
  3. Sound characteristics : general description, stuffiness of specific notes and congestion (inability to crescendo) in general and for specific notes.
  4. Altissimo register (3rd 8va key range): especially above G.

Note: I did not ask about the price, I only want to know the instruments.

The Adventure

  • First, I had a phone call with Tong to confirm the appointment:
    • Tong Cui is a very straight-talking kind of guy who says what he thinks without wasting time on “decorating the truth”: something I appreciate a lot!
    • He is also something of a philosopher and the questions he asked lead the conversation and really opened-up my understanding of how to deal with and absorb unexpected feelings that came up when playing on these fantastic instruments.
  • Accomodation: Tong was actually in the middle of organising one of his events and his sales associate (Kristin Leitterman) had a full schedule of rehearsals and courses for her Doctorate program in performance. Nonetheless, they went out of their way to help me spend some time with the instruments and make my experience very pleasant indeed!
  • Instruments: I think they have many more than what I tried (e.g. Other Mönnig, other Howarth and Adler) but I did not even ask because my curiosity centered around the list below and time was limited. More testing visits are in order!
  • Reeds: no time to play with worst of them, but I did use good reeds and mediocre reeds.

fromKsIPhoneOboes tested:

  1. Howarth XL
  2. Two Marigaux 901
  3. Marigaux M2
  4. Gebrüger Mönnig Platinum (American model)
  5. Covey, almost new
  6. K-Ge, plastic, full Conservatoire
  7. Gebrüger Mönnig Platinum Oboe D'amore.... Chosen by Albrecht Mayer!
  8. My own Lorée: used as a benchmark.

My impressions:

  • Altissimo: above G was very difficult and on some reeds, even D and above was difficult.
    • I blame this on the approaching hurricane Sandy, because the altissimo was also difficult on my Lorée even if, in Ottawa, I go up to A and Bb without undue grief.
    • I am very confident that if I can go to IDRS 2013 in California, the altissimo on all of them will be fine.
  • Ergonomics:
    • None of the instruments showcased at Innoledy cramped my fingers at all, but I suppose I would really have to play on each for hours to know for certain.
    • Marigaux’s new design of the little finger palms in the M2, works out really well. At first, I thought it might inhibit some strange fingerings I like, but they work quite nicely.
    • Mönnig does things differently (angles of keys and palms) from what I am used to. But after a few minutes of playing, it worked out fine.
  • On all showroom instruments, tuning was impeccable with all reeds. My Lorée plays better than the brand-new AK models I have tried (thanks to the re-voicing done by Laubin), but it still suffers from some instability and some notes with iffy tuning. All instruments at Innoledy were great, in this respect.
  • It needs more experimentation, but stability seemed fine with all reeds. I spent much less time testing stability on the Covey and K-Ge. Marigaux (all) and Mönig had strikingly dependable tuning and stabiltiy.
  • XLsmAll new showroom instruments were simply easy to play, which is not true of all professional level oboes.
  • All Howarth XL’s I have played up to now (3 of them) played the same way, so it appears to be a dependable model. It sounds closely enough to, but Lorée without the “framing” (and also without the unstable notes).
  • ObMarigM2Case_cropMarigaux:
    • 901 is not “just a standard model”, it is a fully expressive instrument. Reputation confirmed, any reed plays well in a Marigaux! The two different 901s played slightly differently
      • One was noticeably more free-blowing than the other, although both were amazingly stable and versatile for dynamics and articulation.
      • The freer one, without changing anything in my reeds, embouchure or breath techniques, immediately improves my sound and musical expression.
    • The M2 is just a heavenly instrument, so charming to play, but it shows the difference between good and mediocre reeds. It plays very well with all reeds, the character changes more than the 901 when changing reeds.
  • oboeDamore_w170AM_cropThe Mönnig Platinum Oboe is also a magical instrument, a real pleasure to play. It also shows the difference between good and mediocre reeds, but has a much more cottony sound than the M2.
    • This is the first time I play a German instrument, so I need more time to confirm my impressions. It appears to also play well with any reed and with all my bizarre fingerings.
    • Kristin said that my sound was much more focussed on the XL, but I don’t know if this is really a flawed sound or a matter of taste and personal preference.
    • Because I didn’t have time to take recordings, I don’t know yet if this cottony sound is the “baroque-esque” quality that I like so much from Albrecht Mayer. This is a difficult question, because on the Mönnig d’amore (both bells), I sounded like an English Horn, whereas Mayer sounds like a baroque oboe.
  • Mönnig Platinum d’amore
    • Selected by Albrecht Mayer himself! Again, a magical instrument!
    • The reason for 2 bells becomes obvious when you try them: the round bell is perfect for chamber music and the conical bell for solo.
    • I sounded like an English Horn when playing... but that is me and my reeds because obviously Albrecht Mayer has a very distinct d’amore sound on the same instrument.
  • Both the Mönnig Platinum and the M2 would require me to work on my embouchure and breathing (the Platinum more so): they are truly high-character instruments that offer the widest range of expressive possibilities. Because I did formerly get Conservatoire and University training to the point of being able to start (though not continue) a professional career, I know what to do and it will not be hard: in fact it would be a very happy and welcome change to feeling boxed-in by the instruments I have known to this day.
  • Covey:
    • Less friendly to strong air pressure or hard reeds, although full range of dynamics and articulation.
    • Very relaxed feeling when playing.
    • It should be choice instrument for recording or stage performance where microphones and electronic mixing are key to the final result.
  • K-Ge :
    • Plays very well but no personality.
    • Keywork fully functional, nothing that is not fully necessary (no split D).
    • If the price is right, this is the ideal high-school instrument, or in preparation for auditions to the Conservatoire or College.
    • It might also prove very useful as an outdoor stage instrument.

Conclusion & my pick

Choosing a favourite is really difficult. The XL is really excellent, but it is just not in the line of sounds I am looking for. Although the “better” 901 (the other one is amazing too) would just make my playing soar right now, I just really like the higher-end models more.

If I were an orchestral pro., I would probably go for the 901 because of its versatility. But as an amateur, I can follow my whims! So I choose either the M2 or the Platinum. Both the Marigaux M2 and the Gebrüder Mönnig Platinum are astounding instruments: choosing between them will require more experimentation. Hopefully, I will go to the IDRS 2013 conference this year and try them more fully!

Really Happy Conclusion

I still want to try Dupin, Rigoutat, Fossatti, Püchner, Bulgheroni and Viennese (Wolfe), but if for any reason I never get the opportunity to do so, I have definitely found 2 instruments that completely fulfil my expectations while opening the door to my aspirations for playing. These are just magnificent oboes!

Concerning my question (from this post): “Would a better oboe really speed-up the improvement of my playing?”, I think the answer should ring a resounding “YES”! The Marigaux M2 and the Mönnig Platinum really appear to want to make my life easier. At the very, very least, I do not have to fight with them to play in tune: the instrument helps me!

Oboe or d’amore?

This is the only thing that annoys me about my visit to NYC: for some time, I’ve been saying I want to buy a d’amore unless I find an oboe that really blows me away... Well, I have indeed found at least 3 oboes that blow me away, but both the Laubin and Mönnig d’amores also touched me strongly... more experimentation required to hopefully help me make a choice!

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