Chers lecteurs francophones: je vise toujours le bilinguisme mais le temps et l'envergure de cet article sont tout simplement trop des facteurs limitatifs, étant donné que la très grande majorité de mes lecteurs sont anglophones. J'en suis désolé et je vous remercie de votre compréhension. Entretemps, copier-coller l’adresse dans le traducteur Google donnera une traduction … enfin, je ne sais pas à quel point ça marche, mais ce sera traduit!
Wow, I've had my Bulgheroni Musa (Cecilia) now for over 5 months ... but I have hardly blogged about her yet, no You-Tubes either. It would be perfectly reasonable for someone to believe that this proves disappointment or buyers remorse .... sorry to disappoint you, but no, this is not the case: I am really happy with Cecilia! I’ll explain when I post my first recording with Cecilia how this year has just been very odd – fatigue and timelines just played against me. First week of December, I played the Marcello concerto with reeds I made last spring … not even time to take a good picture with Cecilia yet!
I am now taking her for granted ("Of course this is how I sound!") and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to play Ol' Faithful (1985 Lorée) much anymore. Oddly, this Bulgheroni has the same effect as Smiley (an old Marigaux SML I had borrowed for 4 months): playing it makes me sound much better on Ol' Faithful, despite the mismatch. But returning to Cecilia immediately reminds me why I bought her. My Lorée does have its charms and SOME reeds actually sound better on Ol' Faithful, but I always find it easier to play my Bulgheroni.
Choosing a new instrument?????
With Christmas time upon us, parents of oboe students will be looking for a potential instrument they could buy for their budding musical artist. This brings the nervous question "What is the best oboe?", because the price of this instrument can be prohibitive, so parents with tighter means (or students preparing for college) will want to be sure they don't make a mistake and need to buy something else in a year or 6 months!
Please note that everything in this post are my own opinions. I encourage people to test-compare instruments for themselves and form their own opinions: if we disagree, all the better! By discussing our differing views, we promote more variety and open doors.
The first thing I can say is that, today's serious market (avoid the cheap copy makers) rarely has outright bad instruments (with real design or construction flaws) and even the used instrument market (if you stick to well-established makers) will yield instruments that will play really well - assuming you purchase from a reputable reseller or have it repaired by a well appreciated oboe specialist.
It doesn't matter if you the parent of a high-schooler, an adult enthusiast or even a professional, there are 3 factors involved in choosing an instrument:
- Which instruments are available?
- What can you afford?
- How does the instrument fulfil your physical needs and artistic goals?
For me, available instruments boil-down to whatever is at IDRS conferences, but for most people, it will be the closest big-city music shop, and in the USA or Europe, that is usually quite good. You really want instruments that you can try yourself, or at least have tried by a respected teacher or performer. Even if one maker's characteristics can be predicted at 85%, the remaining 15% is enough to cause serious annoyance OR to find an absolute treasure! No two instruments from the same maker play the same and selecting used or even new by internet descriptions is risky because there is just no way to know in what state of repair and adjustment the instrument will be.
Concerning affordability, even with professional or passionate amateurs, it would be incredibly naïve to think that instrument characteristics alone will motivate the final purchase. Unless a buyer is wealthy, price will always factor-in to the decision. Don't be fooled by people being doctors or lawyers or engineers or any well paid profession: there is the phenomena of "double-income bankruptcy" that any responsible adult will seek to avoid! Luckily, regardless of the characteristics you favour (sound, phrasing, mechanics) there are always different makers with enough overlap in them to give you some choice, and different vendors will list competitive prices.
And finally, instrument characteristics, this is where experience is everything. For most students, you really should not worry too much about blogs like mine and other reviews that describe what instruments do: there really is very much to develop in terms of controlling tuning and sound and technique that most reputable instruments will serve the purpose quite well. It takes years to build physical technique and find your artistic goals, both of which will end-up determining the instrument you will ultimately want.
Do not fall into the trap of listening to your favourite oboist and thinking "if I get her/his oboe, I can sound like that too" - this is not true! For example, at IDRS 2017, the featured Mönnig player had essentially the opposite sound from Albrecht Mayer, though they both played the same model instrument! It is not necessary to have all the bells and whistles when starting, so give it time and enjoy the journey to get there!
Oboes at IDRS 2017
With that in mind, I want to say more about how my preferences had changed at IDRS last summer. My thoughts on general comparison between instruments remain reasonably the same, but which instruments I prefer have shifted: this surprized me and I think it is significant: it emphasizes that the instrument that is right for a person right now (even as a very skilled and experienced musician) might very well not be the preferred one in a few years, as the body changes with age and as habits (and goals) change with focus repertoire and aesthetic preference.
I really don't think the instruments (of the same model) have changed very much, so this leads me to believe that a musician may favour different qualities in the instrument as personal abilities and conditions evolve over time. For this reason, I will not mention makers where my impressions remain the same (e.g. Laubin, Püchner, Rigoutat, Dupin, Ludwig Frank, Covey, Yamaha, Lorée, Patricola); you can see my previous posts for that (click here). Instead, I want to focus on brands where my tastes have changed.
First example: Fossati.
This one struck me. At IDRS 2013 and 2014, I clearly preferred the A model, even though it is their least expensive from the professional Fossati line. At the time, their representative explained to me that the A model is their "entry-level" professional instrument: the S and MB models are better suited to professionals who naturally "work the sound harder". At the IDRS this year, I clearly preferred the S model: I really preferred the way it handled breathing and the flexibility of its tone.
They had a violetwood S model that completely stole my heart. The one and ONLY reason it did not make the list of my 3 favourites is because the altissimo (above 3rd octave G) was more difficult than the other 3 makers. Otherwise, I completely fell in love with it and nearly bought it on the 1st day! Compared to the black granadilla S, the violetwood allowed me to relax my entire embouchure (the actual jaw) that much more to get the sound that I was aiming for. It is very difficult to explain: it is entirely a matter of how it interacts with the body for sound production.
Fossati has innovated an oboe with interchangeable crowns and bell bottoms ("swells"?). Obvious question: does changing the parts really change the sound? Short answer: yes it does. Long answer: the white plastic crown and bell swell does give a more mellow sound, very appropriate for baroque repertoire. The black crown and swell provide a proper modern orchestral tone. I did not notice a difference between the black and black + metal ring, but it was not possible for me to do so: the purpose is to increase projection in concert halls.
Second example: Buffet Crampon.
I have always loved the sound of the Orfeo, but Buffet in general used to leave me uncomfortable in the airways while blowing, especially the "standard" Prestige model. This time, every single Buffet they had on the table pleased me completely. I would have been fully happy to bring home any one of the Buffets on display.
The Orfeo is still my favourite because of its rich, deep and enveloping tone, but the Prestige was also pleasant to play. At the Gala concert, one artist played the Orfeo with the usual American reed and delivered a performance with as much verve, spirit and lively contrast as I would expect from European oboists!
Buffet Crampon's new Virtuose is really the talk of the town, featuring a bell cut below the last holes, so they can be easily changed to different woods. Yes, changing the bell does change the sound. With a variety of woods and composite materials, you really have a rainbow of sounds at your fingertips: without changing reeds! They were showcasing a neon-green bell that was actually 3D printed: this one essentially made it sound like a Lorée AK (when I tried it). The mechanics are really different: same fingerings, but MUCH more work on ergonomics and click prevention. This is something you really can only appreciate over time: more than a few days at a conference. It just feels a little bit too much like a Lorée to my taste: many people will like this, but this is something I am trying to move away from.
The lower joint is cut just below the D key instead of between the hands. Normally, this intends to improve the tuning of Ab down to F. I did not notice any difference in tuning between the Virtuose and the Orfeo, but these are things you normally notice at home or in the concert hall: in other words, it is intended as insurance against Murphy's Law!
Alain Vlamynk did a couple of excellent posts on the Virtuose on his blog. Click here. It’s in French only, but you can always copy-paste the URL to his website in Google Translate!
Fox Sayen & Fox-Laubin
To my personal taste, Fox still shows resistance to my air flow, but that's a personal thing because WOW, what a nice instrument! Talk about perfect tuning and stability combined with a glorious sound: that's the Sayen! Almost all the Foxes with 3rd octave key allowed me to play up to the Bb with just as much ease as the Bulgheroni I finally bought! So for most American players of any skill level that prefer a more reserved air stream, the Fox Sayen is a really interesting candidate!
The new Fox-Laubin is essentially the same (to my taste) as the Sayen, but with more free-blowing allure, as we'd expect from a Laubin. It is not a Laubin and it is not a Sayen: this is a case where you really have to try it and decide for yourself.
Differing views on Howarth:
They did not have any XM models with them: too bad because I really did love those the best in New-York. I used to say every XL played the same, but this time I felt the sound (for the XL an LXV) was more vibrant (shaky) than before, thus requiring a more focused and restrained reed. This is excellent for American-scrape reed players or "better behaved" European scrape reeds. I really like my reeds to be wild in order to get the dynamics and articulation contrast I seek. When I tried to play above altissimo G - no luck at all - I was recommended to try their 21st Century model (they had none there on site) which is apparently designed for a better 3rd octave range.
Old heart-throbs: Mönnig & Marigaux
I was really, truly hoping to love the Mönnig Albrecht Mayer model. I was really hoping to find a used one and buy it. Problem is, I confirmed my very first impressions from the very first time I tried it in New York it is a remarkable instrument, but requires a more solid professional player than me. I found the 2nd octave key range sounded crystalline and thin; but I have been told by professionals who play it that this becomes full and rich as one develops the strength to play it properly. Similarly with the altissimo, I could not break the G barrier: this was the deciding factor telling me I could just not buy this instrument. Too bad, because the sound from 1st octave key notes all the way to the bottom is downright mythical!
In particular, one individual Mönnig, straight off the airplane from Berlin, had very special pads. Cork pads were covered with silicone: I found it vibrated and tickled the fingers when playing. Some people do not like this but I loved it! The vibrations/tickling in the fingers makes it feel like I'm that much more a part of the music I'm playing.
Similarly I was really, truly hoping to fall in love with the Marigaux M2. But I can't shake it, the body and bore of the 901/2000 models are just much better suited to my habits and my goals at this time. It is believed (remains to be proven) that many Lorée players (like me) or similar instruments eagerly adopt the 901 whereas the M2 is preferred by people who already play Marigaux, or another instrument with the qualities to the 901. .... This raises an interesting question: if changing preferences is a trend that will continue over the next 5-10 years, now that my Cecilia is very different from Ol' Faithful, could it be possible that I too will migrate to the M2 in the future?
My opinion has not changed: Marigaux has proven it's worth in Ottawa and Montreal in every kind of weather I can think of, even over 4 months comparing. So for me, to buy a Marigaux 901 or 2001 would have been the safest choice.
Playing safe or adventurous risk?
But safety was not my main objective: a specific direction on sound quality and the ease of the altissimo register are my focus. For many months before the IDRS conference, I had been annoying MANY professional oboists on Facebook with questions about the altissimo, especially above G and at least up to Bb!
In comparison, for me, choosing a Bulgheroni was taking a risk because I could only try Bulgheroni at IDRS conferences. Even though Bulgheroni was not time-tested at home, its rich warm and large sound qualities answer what I have been aiming for as long as I can remember. Furthermore, every single Bulgheroni I tried, Musa, Opera, even their student models played up to the altissimo Bb without any effort at all, using my favourite reeds!
Bulgheroni has a decent market for student models in the USA, but mostly in Europe. Their professional models (Opera and Musa) are not new, but they are not marketed with as much intensity as Lorée or Marigux or Bufet or Yamaha, and they don’t have any big-name promoter-artists, so they are nowhere near as well known. But since this summer, Christian Schmitt (very well known in Europe and also known as a Rigoutat artist) has taken on the mantle. At IDRS 2017, after I bought Cecilia, I quickly met him and he told me he had tried her and liked it quite a lot. It was a few months later that I learned he too now plays the Bulgheroni Musa (like Cecilia).
Compared to my Ol’ Faithful Lorée or even Marigaux, Bulgheroni is a very different instrument.I’ll discuss that when I record my first You-Tube with Cecilia, but here I want mention that Bulgheroni's student model is also striking. Since the first time I tried Bulgheroni at IDRS 2013 in Redlands, I kept telling the Bulgheroni family their student models "develop good habits". This could sound facetious, but it's honest: I find they develop proper expectations four sound (rich, broad and versatile) as well as a proper feeling of freedom when blowing.
A funny thing happened on the way to the conference.
Josef oboes are always a popular curiosity because of their innovation in wood and sculpture. My opinions on them have remained the same, but the following anecdote is funny enough to mention here.
Naturally, I tried them all (especially their d’amore …. if only I had the cash …). The altissimo (above 3rd octave G) was a difficult, so they adjusted the screw on the 3rd octave key. This helped a lot, but still not quite as good as others. Then, without warning “KA- BOOM”: thunder struck and the rain started pouring as if we were under Niagara Falls. Guess what? Same reed, same room, just a few seconds later, the altissimo (all the way up to Bb) became as easy to play as anything I had ever played before. ….. so when I say weather plays tricks ….
A special note on "Chinese oboes"
It is very unfortunate that such a great country (in size, population, production and history) as China should be equated in the average western mind with cheap (less than 1/10 the normal price), throw-away products that defy repair and sometimes are even missing a few parts. This is VERY unfortunate for at least one Chinese producer of really good instruments: K-Ge. I have tried his instruments at 3 IDRS conferences: seriously, it's hard to see them as anything less than professional calibre instruments. There are new producers of oboes from China that appear to steal the designs and looks from the great makers (like Marigaux, Ludwig Frank, Josef and Dupin), but I have not tried them and I don't know anyone who has. I have read some comments on Facebook of people happy with their internet purchase of "Chinese oboes" and others were really very angry. So my conclusion is: buyer beware. However if you are considering K-Ge: go for it, I really think you'll be happy.