Simon Rattle’s oboe has died

Simon Rattle’s oboe has died


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2016

Birmingham musicians are mourning the passing of Karen O’Connor, second oboe of the CBSO during the Rattle and Oramo years and a much-loved member of the ensemble.

Karen started out as a founder-member of the orchestra of Opera North. The young Simon Rattle charmed her into coming to Birmingham.

After retiring from the CBSO, she went on to study performance psychology, working with students at Birmingham Conservatoire and helping many established professionals deal with performance anxiety and related issues.

There will be a cremation service next Friday, July 1.

KarenOConnor LisaCarpenter460

photo: Lisa Carpenter/Guardian

Playing a solo, she’d say, was like playing golf: ‘when you’ve played your shot and you walk, with lots of time to think … it’s about how you stay in the right place in your head.’

Our sad thoughts are with Karen’s family and friends.


  • Nigel Harris says:

    Dear me. She was certainly a fine player – and, I gather, a fine person.

  • Ro Harby says:

    Karen was just a lovely person as well as a fabulous oboist. She showed much care and concern for everyone – lovely inside and out was Karen. Proud to have known her.

    • Christopher Morley says:

      Karen was just a lovely person, and I enjoyed knowing her and working with her. My heart goes out to Chris.
      Christopher Morley

  • john humphreys says:

    So desperately sad – knew her well; a lovely, big hearted person, full of life, mental and physical health.

  • Stephen Newbould says:

    As Ro Harby says above, a wonderfully warm person – and as well as playing for Rattle’s CBSO, she was Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s oboist for many years, giving many stunning premiere performances. We mourn a generous and supportive colleague and friend.

  • Tim Walton says:

    So very sorry to hear this news. Karen was a good friend. My best wishes to Chris

  • John Wesley-Barker says:

    I’m shocked, I saw Karen and said hello in the staff room of the Conservatoire just a month or so ago. My sympathies are with family, friends and colleagues.

  • Ulla Benz says:

    We lost a great colleague and supportive teacher for all students of Birningham Conservatoire.My thoughts are with her family.

  • Stweart says:

    A lovely lady and fine musician
    My thoughts are with Chris

  • Di Xiao says:

    Very sad news indeed, Karen did great works for the summer school students and to so many musicians over the years. She will be deeply missed.

  • David Saint says:

    Karen’s work at the Conservatoire was groundbreaking. She helped countless students – and not a few colleagues, including me. She was kind, thoughtful and innovative. We were very fortunate to have Karen on the staff and this is sad news indeed.

  • Chris & Jo Bradley says:

    This is so sad. Karen was a wonderful person and I have so many happy memories of her from the RNCM, Opera North and bumping into her at the CBSO/BCMG and more recently watching her help students with performance anxieties. Such a lovely person. Our thoughts are with Chris.

  • Jakob Törmä says:

    So sad to hear this! Karen was an amazing person! My thoughts goes out to Chris!

  • Laura Tanner says:

    This is terrible news. Karen was a wonderful help to me. I am not sure I would still be a musician today without her amazing input. I am so grateful
    To have known her and my thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time.

  • Steven Lloyd-Gonzalez says:

    This is devastating news. Karen was a remarkable human being. I feel hugely privileged to have known her.
    My thoughts and deepest sympathy are with Chris.

  • Russell Jones says:

    I am very sorry to her this news. She was a lovely person.

  • Halldor says:

    A lovely person, a wonderful player, a wise colleague and someone who made a huge difference to so many of her fellow musicians – from students to veterans. A heartbreaking and untimely loss: she was still so active and gave so much.

  • Clare Glenister says:

    Awefully sad news. I’ve known and admired Karen’s work since RNCM days. Such a warm-hearted person.

  • Maddy Aldis-Evans says:

    I first got to know Karen over 20 years ago when referred to her by Richard Weigall. She was uplifting and inspiring as a teacher and a life-line in her work as a performance coach. I last worked with her just a couple of years ago and will never forget what she showed me. A beautiful person who had so much drive, spirit and energy. She will be so missed by us all. Thank you dear Karen for all that you did for us, and may your spirit live on through that work. Thinking of you at this time Chris.

  • Rebecca Dawkins says:

    Such sad news. Karen helped me enormously whilst I was studying at Birmingham Conservatoire, she was such a kind, talented and lovely lady. My thoughts are with her family and friends.

  • HIPster says:

    Nice person and great player – what a loss! But what happened? Cancer?
    So many victims. 🙁

  • Chris says:

    A small correction to Norman’s kindly article.
    The cremation will be NEXT Friday, July 1
    Chris – Karen’s husband

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Apologies, Chris, and consolations. I have altered the date of the funeral (which was given to me in error). I met Karen the first time I came to do a piece on CBSO in the mid-Rattle years. I was so impressed by her candour, her warmth and her total dedication. May her good soul find eternal rest.

  • Sarah says:

    Karen was one of the best people I’ve ever known and probably ever will know. She was so incredibly genuine, open and honest and the help and support that she gave me changed my life. I will never forget her or what she helped me to achieve. My thoughts are firmly with Chris at this incredibly difficult time.

  • Chris Clift says:

    Thank you to everyone posting here for their very kind words and tributes.

    Chris Clift – Karen’s husband (often known as Mr O’Connor!)

  • Roger Pemberton (Trustee CBSO) says:

    In the days of high interest rates (remember those?) we established the Arco Trust to help CBSO string players to buy the quality bows they needed by paying the interest on their personal loans. Karen was keen to help with this project from the start even though she wasn’t a string player. The welfare of the orchestra and every member of it was her first priority. A very sad passing and a loss to so many musicians of the future she would have helped. Our thoughts are with you Chris.