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Minnesota’s mystery oboe-go-round

September 17, 2017 by norman lebrecht

31 comments.


Two years ago, the Minnesota Orchestra introduced a new principal oboe. It was a homecoming for Joseph Peters, who first played with the orchestra at 18 and was mentored by its associate principal oboe, John Snow.

Suddenly we learn that Peters is gone and Snow has replaced him as principal.

What happened?

Clearly, it did not work out for Joseph Peters. He has moved down to the North Carolina Symphony.


Comments (31)

  1. Itsjtime says:

    This is not the type of lascivious gossip mongering that we all have a “slightly warped” and possibly unhealthy appetite for. This is a hiccup in a hard working orchestra musicians career. Hopefully he doesn’t carry around a bad reputation based on this announcement.

    There was even a time when Tabateau was “fired from the Philadelphia Orchestra” and Marc Lifschey’s career ending in Cleveland is still the subject of conjecture.

    Sometimes it’s a bad culture fit, musicically or otherwise. Sometimes the music directors are dicks…. we just don’t know in this case.

    1. Steve P says:

      It’s an oboe thing: all that stress from blowing against a tiny reed is bound to have side effects. Lotta neurotics on that side of the animal kingdom

      1. Marcelle Tabuteaux says:

        Oh, give this hackneyed old thing a rest. Right up there with directions to Carnegie Hall.

        1. Steve P says:

          I’m a low brass player, so I pretty much think everybody that plays above middle C has crazy tendencies. First trumpets and oboist go to the head of the line

  2. Bruce says:

    Many orchestras in the US have a 2-year probationary period (don’t know about Minnesota in particular). It may have been as simple as not getting tenure, which can happen for any number of reasons.

  3. Rodrigo says:

    I have to say that I find it quite interesting to learn a bit about the inside world of high level oboists, for a change. Reading only about pianists, conductors and violinists is a little overdone.

    I am all for news and gossip of all kinds from the oboe world. This is the thing: when a wind player reaches the upper echelons of the orchestral world this is part of the deal. It’s NOT just a run of the mill orchestra job, it’s a full time wind position in an elite orchestra. Just like movie stars, politicians and sports figures, any oboist who gets that far professionally is going to have to accept the fact that people will gossip, the public is interested in what they do and news about them is very interesting to many people.

    It’s the price of fame. If you don’t like it, get a job at McDonald’s. Carry on, Mr. Lebrecht. All oboe news is welcome.

    1. csquarcialupi says:

      Maybe he just wanted a warmer climate. Winters are cold in Minneapolis.

  4. Michael says:

    Chicago has had similar oboe problems. Must be the instrument.

  5. Don Hohoho says:

    Saying he moved “down” to another orchestra is unnecessarily insulting, snobbish, and ultra-bad journalism. Stop doing that. Actual musicians have it hard enough without negative attention in the media. What about focusing on people who don’t have the high-profile jobs? Why so much emphasis on employment? What about artistry? That’s what killed Musical American, in my regard, was its focus on the “industry” of classical music.

    1. Ciconia says:

      Is it not possible that “down” means “south.” Perhaps unnecessary considering that the geography of the move was already clear, but probably not a snub or comparison.

  6. herrera says:

    That the principal didn’t get tenure is not odd; that the associate principal, one time mentor, and previously passed over candidate took his place IS.

    Were auditions held? it remains to be seen if he in turn gets tenure in 2 years, or it sounds like he already got it?

    intrigues, intrigues

    1. Malcolm James says:

      John Snow has previously done a stint as acting principal. Maybe he is doing that again. It would seem to be most irregular to simply make him up to principal without any auditions. Also, he’s been the nn. 2 there for nearly 20 years, so it seems odd that only now does he seem to have the potential to be no. 1.

      1. Malcolm James says:

        Also Joseph Peters seems to only be associate principal at the NCSO, so it is a step down in rank.

        1. Jerome Hoberman says:

          He’s not “only” Associate Principal; he’s solo English horn.

          1. Wai Kit Leung says:

            Solo English horn is a step down from principal oboe, in any orchestra.

          2. Pedro R Díaz says:

            Respectfully disagree with Wai Kit
            There are works in which the English horn may have a marquee role, ahem, Tristan and Isolde. Especially in the opera repertorie.
            Every member of the oboe section is essential though. Although it may take a giant ego in some cases, most principal players do not see their section colleagues as beneath them.

    2. Bruce says:

      “intrigues, intrigues”

      I don’t know anything about this audition or this orchestra’s master agreement, but there is a way that this could not be intrigue.

      When an orchestra holds an audition, they may — may — decide that the runner-up is also qualified to hold the job in case the winner declines or doesn’t work out. (In other words, Candidate A was the winner, but the committee & conductor would be satisfied to offer the job to Candidate B if things don’t work out with A.) If John Snow was the runner-up, and was considered qualified, and if the Minnesota Orchestra’s master agreement works this way, then they could offer him the job and there wouldn’t have to be anything underhanded about it. Just a thought.

  7. Wai kit leung says:

    Excuse my ignorance: are US orchestras obligated to hold an audition to fill an open position, or can they just pick whatever player they like?

    1. Bruce says:

      If I say anything in error, someone who knows more than I do please correct me:

      Basically they have to hold an audition. After that, it depends on the individual orchestra’s master agreement (the contract that the musicians & management agree to abide by); this is usually approved by the American Federation of Musicians, and checked over by lawyers to make sure the contract doesn’t violate any US laws.

      Some orchestras agree to invite players to the finals or semifinals.

      Some orchestras can appoint someone if nobody wins the audition. Depending on the orchestra, that appointment can be tenure-track (possibility of becoming permanent), or for one year only, after which there is another audition.

      Or there can be a sort of ongoing audition-type process — e.g. when the Boston Symphony had no principal flute for 5 or 6 years back in the early 90s. Different people from reputable orchestras would be invited to come and play for a week or two, and now and then they would offer someone the job, and the person would turn it down. In such cases the assistant or associate principal plays principal in the meantime.

      Of course there are rumors about the system being abused: the conductor wants a certain player, so he refuses to approve anyone from the audition, and then appoints that person when the audition has no winner. Or for a 2nd position, the principal of the section somehow ensures that one of their students is the winner (or they ensure there is no winner and then appoint one of their students). And so on.

      1. Wai Kit leung says:

        This probably explains why people “win” jobs after failing at blind auditions

  8. Itsjtime says:

    Dangerous and libeled post, there.
    Hint: you can say that person A is a terrible player with no taste, bad tone, crap intonation and an inability to play below mf. And you can assert your opinion that person A is a total dick-cheese.
    HOWEVER! It is unacceptable to posit a theory about actual criminal behavior. And even worse to hint at a specific person.
    Thanks the Norm for his response!

  9. Itsjtime says:

    Oh! No! My last post was for the thread about Phil myers! Not this post!
    My apologies

  10. Itsjtime says:

    Oh Pedro…ahem. An assistant principal/ eng horn job in a small American Orchestra usually mean second oboe when there is no ehorn and then they contract a sub for second oboe when there is ehorn.

    And for Christ sake…ahem… Ehorn is a big step down from principal oboe for many reasons…even though you get big solos and occasionally stand on stage in a costume…and you get paid more per note than any other instrument.

    Firstly you don’t get to play any classical rep except 1 Haydn symphony…1 symphony! Don’t you get incredibly jealous when the oboe plays Beethoven/Brahms/Schubert/ Schumann/Mozart/

    Second…your job is mainly counting rests!

    And yes you do get a Ton of Bach but the English horn is only an approximation of the instrument it was written for. And thankfully this music is being played mostly by period orchestras and less and less by big orchestras.

    1. shhhhh says:

      You are aware that Pedro is the solo English horn of the Metropolitan Opera, yes? You sound like an ass, and you should probably just stop talking.

  11. Itsjtime says:

    Shhh..you are an abject idiot . everything I wrote is factual.
    English horn plays practically no classical rep, gets paid more per note and has mostly to sit and wait.
    It is actually one of the least satisfying things to sit while everyone is playing….let’s just say…the new world symphony. Perhaps you do get to double the loud parts….but that practice is passé these days as doubling requires extra pay in mostly cases. Sure opera has great e horn parts…. but I mostly enjoy classical operas and a few early romantic ones….which have no ehorn.,

    And yes according to the website there are only two players in the section where this young man plays….so 80-90% of the time, he is the second oboe player.

    Perhaps having positions like solo English horn is endemic of the way unions have strong armed cash strapped American orchestras into begging for money to make up for giant budgets in half empty halls serving only the….
    Blah blah blah…. perhaps the English horn players extra 40,000 for being a solo player would be better spent on education programs.

    1. Nydo says:

      ITSJTIME, perhaps you should learn a bit more about music before trying to pass yourself off as an expert. Classical period pieces don’t occupy a major proportion of most large symphony repertoire, perhaps only 20-30%, and as solo English Horn, you will still end up filling in on second oboe as the section rotates parts. A major proportion of the repertory requires three, and sometimes four or more oboe parts, and they are served much better by full time players than unfilled positions that have to be given to freelancers. Using the Dvorak New World Symphony as your example of English Horn usage is extreme cherry picking; when there is an English Horn part, it is usually used through much of the piece, and functions much of the time as a solo instrument. Your observations about doubling betray a lack of knowledge about how things work on the fully professional level, and your preference for Classical and Early Romantic Operas means nothing. Incidentally, I work as a musician in New York City, and have been to the Met many times; the English Horn player (Pedro) spends plenty of time playing oboe as well, and his schedule is every bit as busy as the oboe section mates. One final point; your mention of cash strapped American Orchestras shouldn’t have any bearing on basic artistic decisions, and the sections are no larger than the standard size of any major orchestra around the world, in fact, the roster of players is smaller when you compare the major opera orchestras. As for you labelling the person that let you know who Pedro was an “abject idiot”, well, speak for yourself! That is the language of useless trolls….

  12. Pedro R Díaz says:

    It’s all good. Itsjtime makes a logical argument. But it’s the logic of a child, or an amateur that does not understand the importance of teamwork. When I attended Juilliard, all of us wanted to be principal oboe of the philharmonic, or the Met. Well, you cannot compare the ability or worthiness of different players in the section, because you have to take into consideration that all the positions in a section, are only available in singular moment in the history of the orchestra in question. Hence, a principal oboe, maybe have formerly played second or English horn in her or his previous employment. Every person in our orchestra is perfectly capable of playing 1st, 2nd or English horn at any given moment. It’s a matter of habit. And availability. Playing in a major orchestra, is akin to being in an exclusive sports team. Whether you play for the Real Madrid, juventus or the Yankees, everyone has a very important and unique role. And they are the best at their position because they have perfected. We have an incredible second oboe player in our section, Susan Laney Spector. She went to The Curtis Institute and often plays principal when needed. She is effective and musical with an exquisite tone. Yet, she auditioned for second oboe because she wanted to be part of an excellent organization.

    We should be celebrating the fact that this young oboist, whom I don’t know, was able to quickly get a job by the sweat of his own brow, through an audition process, no matter the artistic institution in question. That to me, speaks much more highly than any disgrace he might have suffered in past careers.

    Once a young musician grows up, he or she will appreciate the sanctity of a large musical ensemble like an orchestra, will understand with a holystic vision. Everyone is important because everyone made into a very exclusive organization in which you are only admitted for your own merits. Furthermore, we need to protect our trade, keep people coming to the halls without sharing poisonous and spiteful opinions about the great members of any orchestra in any country of this increasingly smaller world. It hurts us all.
    Please forgive any grammatical errors.

  13. Itsjtime says:

    Mr. Diaz, well taken. But….it is nothing like professional sports….which are highly over-specialized. Just ask Ms. Spector if the truly great Pedro (Martinez) ever got a hit when he went to the national league. Perhaps soccer is better for you- goalies always only play goalie. Ever see Messi run to play defense for a game?

    Often times the “haves” are oblivious to the “have nots”. Does it ever occur to you that there is an incongruity in the arts that’s killing it….I blame you not, of course. But there are so few regional opportunities to hear opera. Do you think that is related to available donors being woefully centered on giving the met all of their money??? +300million USD would go very far in bringing live opera to a whole lot more places….then maybe would even enjoy it and continue to support local arts?????? (Other)Full time operas in the USA are all but muerto.
    Often times a child’s logic is pure because the child has not had to make concessions to the ugly realities of everyday life.
    Salaam.
    And…you have a lovely tone.

  14. Betsy Klengendal says:

    It’s probably because he didn’t play with a fat saxophone sound and and didn’t sound exactly the same on every note he played. Wind players have such a sound fetish for one particular type of oboe sound in this country. John Snow doesn’t play that way, but they’ve had a life time to develope an appreciation for his artistry as colleagues. Also, I had heard through the grapevine that Peters was once a student at The University of Minnesota. They probably couldn’t wrap it around their heads that he was now in a leadership position. Very sad.

  15. Don Hohoho says:

    Maybe he was simply too young for the responsibility, and they realized it mutually. Now he will gain experience and perhaps in the future take the center seat of a major orchestra. Too many orchestras are hiring youngsters pre-emptively, just to keep them out of other orchestras. In my opinion, no one under the age of 26 is ready to be in a top orchestra. At least four years experience should be had. Although to play in some orchestras, where all they care about is accuracy, would actually be detrimental to one’s development.
    It may also signal the corruption of the audition process, where accuracy may be valued beyond talent, artistry, allowing mere competence and boring consistency to prevail. And too many musicians are promoting that approach to auditioning, as if it is a science, and a technical job, reducing it to that of many other professions or skilled labor, rather than an art.
    And when audition committees use wrong notes to eliminate candidates, yet allow them in finalists they prefer, they do much wrong. Or when they hire someone just to spite the conductor they dislike, or to get at a competitor orchestra. Why should anyone spend thousands or hundreds of dollars to attend corrupted auditions?


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