Chicago’s great oboist has died

Ray Still, principal oboe for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1953 to 1993, died last night on his 94th birthday. He was hired in 1953 by Fritz Reiner, fired in May 1967 by Jean Martinon, rehired after a court challenge seven months later and played on through Solti and Barenboim. He can be heard on hundreds of recordings.

 

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      • Formal reason was that Mr.Still was reading a book at the rehearsal when there was a tacet movement for woodwinds in Beethoven piano Concerto. When Martinon indignanted on that, Ray said that many people read when free. Martinon acclaimed : you’re the one who read. Still replied: it’s lie. That was out of subordination and Martinon mobilized all possible forces to fire Ray… Ray didn’t like to work with Martinon before leaving the orchestra – by his words that was endless Bizet Symphony… But real reason of that incident was that Ray supported rights of young musicians coming from outside of US in spite of privileges of first chair players gave by management… A few months later Martinon was fired himself. G.Solti replaced him asked at once: but where’s that guy so fantastic oboist? When he was answered Ray Still was fired, Solty required to retreive him and even compensate downtime completely.

      • Doug, thanks for that link. The article by Jerry Kaplan is an absolute treasure trove of backstage gossip concerning many famous musicians, not just Ray Still.

  • No one who ever worked with or near him can ever forget him, for many, often conflicting reasons. Over the years I worked in the Ravinia Festival management – and heard him play at Orchestra Hall as well – his performances could be riveting or, sometimes, oddly faceless. It was alternately amusing or saddening to see the weather change in his relationships with his colleagues (he and principal flutist Donald Peck sat beside each other for decades without speaking), but there was no question that he was one of the players who defined what playing the oboe was about. Wonderful that he lived to a ripe old age, and one hopes that many young players had the opportunity to know him and learn from him.

  • My brother studied with him in the late 70s/early 80s, and while it was in some respects a mixed experience at the time, he remains in awe of the man’s work ethic and constant search for improvement at a time that his contemporaries had either retired or were well past their prime. Today’s oboists, technically, can probably play circles around him, as standards always rise, but IMHO he’s the greatest musician ever to play the oboe. The videos above aren’t necessarily his best work; my absolute favorite is his playing on Bach’s Wedding Cantata from about 1976, Levine conducting with a young Kathleen Battle.

  • I had the great honor to study with Ray Still for several years, and was in his class at Northwestern University, receiving my M.Mus. with him (1975). He was both inspiring and demanding, and had a great sense of humor and a wide-ranging curiosity. Mr. Still’s straightforward and down-to-business persona displayed warmth, occasionally tempered with a no-nonsense acerbic side. Certainly, he was the musical equal of any of the steady parade of great soloists who played in front of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during his tenure, and with whom he collaborated. His teaching emphasized artistry in music-making over the technical aspects of performance, and was exceedingly influential, as scores of his students went on to careers in symphony and opera orchestras, chamber music groups, university teaching positions, and so much more. I am grateful for the many opportunities that I had to hear him live through the years, including his Strauss Concerto performance with the CSO. He certainly challenged so many of us to be more creative musicians than we thought possible, and we will miss him greatly.

  • Sad news indeed. This was a great artist, oboist & teacher. We all are in his debt forever for showing us his process, thinking and emotional core into the great orchestra solos, Bach Cantatas, and solo literature. Even though I was a Sirucek student at Indiana Univ, he agreed to teach me during summer vacation & breaks from school. There were more than a few 2 & 3 hour lessons, sometimes ending abruptly with a………”holy c__p, I gotta be at Ravinia in 20’…….!!!”

    Have to thank Bill Benjamin & Mike Henoch for alerting me to the wonderful 90th b’day celebration week in Chicago where Ray was honored by so many friends & former students. We got to hear Ray’s master class (cranky & demanding as ever!), reminisce, share a drink and some face time with our mentor, one of the truly great ones. The heavenly orchestra just got a new jolt of excitement & beauty. RIP.

    Steve Colburn

    Principal Oboist

    Ars Viva, Chicago

    Milwaukee Symphony (Ret.)

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