Fastest oboe switch in the west

Fastest oboe switch in the west


norman lebrecht

September 18, 2017

This is the LSO’s principal oboe Olivier Stankiewicz making no drama out of a crisis in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust.



  • Respect says:

    Wished id had him around, started an opera with the Gurzenich orchestra, reid failure and the oboist just sat there while we began the opera without the critical solo that begins it.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    So what do you suppose went wrong?

    • Fagottist says:

      Water in the tone holes

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      The blades of a double-reed sometimes just close up on you; often a problem of hydrometry. Incredibly quick switch and the oboe that he snatched up might not have been of the same brand as his; different key-work, response, etc..

      • Emilio says:

        Hi, Ruben: the problem was not the cane. Olivier had a problem with the oboe first octave. Too much water in the hole in the first octave produces the eighth lower sound.

      • Haller says:

        That’s a great summary of a fascinating moment – thank you, Roderick Branch. It was also my immediate impression that it was water in the octave hole, not a reed issue. It’s a common problem for oboists that all of us have experienced, hopefully not during a performance and a lengthy exposed solo! Amazing switch of instruments and very little disruption to the music. Nicely done!

      • Robert Holmén says:

        Turns out, it was indeed a reed problem. They post a picture of the problem reed later…

        • Roderick Branch says:

          It was both. Initially it’s water in the tone hole. You can hear it. A slight croaking as the phrase starts at the beginning of the movement. That’s why the oboist slaps the top joint with his left hand–to force the water from the hole (at the six second mark). But the instrument is too close to his mouth when he hits it, the reed bumps against his lower jaw and breaks. I missed that part visually, as it happens so quickly. And apparently Olivier didn’t notice it either, at first! Because you can see him put the reed back into his mouth after slapping the instrument, intending to play the remainder of the phrase (at the seven second mark). He then clearly feels the split cane on his tongue, removes the instrument and lunges for the second oboist’s instrument, all seamlessly. Truly impressive work on both players’ parts.

        • Roderick Branch says:

          How fitting is it that this happened at the beginning of a movement titled “Descent into Hell”? As an oboist friend said: “the stuff nightmares are made of.”

      • Ruben Greenberg says:

        Roderick; Are the oboists of an orchestra actually required to play the same make of instrument? Let’s say an oboist wins an audition and plays Lorée and the rest of the section plays Marigaux. Would he or they have to change makes of instrument?

        • Malcolm James says:

          Depends on the section. There are some sections which proudly present themselves as all playing on Howarths or Lorees, or whatever, but I don’t know whether this is expected or just happens.

        • Malcolm James says:

          It gets ethically more dubious when the principal is an agent for a firm of oboe makers and insists that their section all play on that make. I’ve even heard of players insisting that their conservatoire pupils change. Of course, the reason why they are agents is that they passionately believe in their make of instrument, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should impose this choice on others when they stand to gain financially.

    • William Safford says:

      If you look at the Twitter feed, you’ll see that the reed split.

      What caused that to happen? In the video, you see the reed pop out of his mouth and bump his chin. It looks like he also bumps the top of his oboe with his left hand.

      This is a chicken and egg situation. Did that cause the reed to crack, or did it crack and that was his initial reaction to it? I don’t know.

      I have had a reed crack while playing on it in concert only once that I can remember offhand, and that was when I was in junior high or high school. I cracked two last week while working on them, but not while playing on them.

      The oboe switch was really impressive. It’s even more impressive that he could just immediately play on his colleague’s instrument and reed. I doubt I could do so with that level of quality if I had to make an immediate switch to bassoon.

      • Wai kit leung says:

        According to the English horn player of the LSO, Olivier split the reed while trying to knock the water out of the tone hole.

  • Olivier Stankiewicz says:

    Ollie here, thanks for the article, haha!
    So what happened:
    As you can hear in the beginning of the solo, there’s a problem on the first octave key. Probably water, but at that stage I thought it was stuck. So I tapped the key to release it, completely breaking my reed in the process. You can actually hear it crack in the recording. At that stage I had no choice but to change instrument.


    • Olivier Stankiewicz says:

      by the way my colleague’s oboe is a indeed a different system from mine, it has got a thumbplate, mine hasn’t.

      • Jane says:

        We can’t wait for you to come and play Strauss with us at Maidstone S.O. in early December! – Am only playing cor anglais of course but don’t worry will also be ready with dual system functioning spare oboes and reeds!

        You won’t need it, for sure.

        Such admiration for what you and Rosie Jenkins did yesterday!!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You were brilliant, Ollie! Olympic speed…

    • Paul Opie says:

      Hope you bought her a beer. Good switch. Keep up the good work.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Olivier, some day, an acceptable synthetic reed will be produced that will make life easier for double-reed players. They’ve made progress on this, but are still far from producing satisfactory results. I once tried to produce a “hybrid reed”; part synthetic, part natural reed. It didn’t work because it was like playing on a dry reed. It sounded brittle. Congratulations for being with the LSO; not a bad band!

  • Bruce says:

    Quick thinking. Hopefully the 2nd player woke up in time to try to fix what was wrong with his instrument.

  • Sherlock Holmes says:

    He broke his reed while trying to repair the not functioning octave key.

  • Wai kit leung says:

    I am an oboist, perhaps I can shed some light on the situation.

    Olivier was extremely fortunate that the second oboe players plays on a dual-system oboe instead of a pure thumbplate-system oboe, which was the standard in the UK but not in the rest of the world (except perhaps Australia and New Zealand). Fingerings would have been different. Not sure if he had that in mind when he swapped the oboes.

    The big issue here is that each player builds his/her reeds differently, with possibly very different strengths and response characteristics. Playing a solo immediately on an unknown reed is like trying to hit a first serve on an unknown tennis racquet (which may be wooden instead of graphite).

    • AsAnOboist... says:

      Ollie already shed some light on it for us many hours before your post, but thanks for that beautiful exercise in pedantry.

      (We DO know how much you love talking about oboe fingerings, though. Thank goodness he didn’t use a fork F, eh? 😉 )

      • Wai kit leung says:

        Olivier’s post didn’t appear on this blog at the time I posted, or else I would not have tried to explain his situation. If you cared to read his comments carefully, he responded to what I wrote, not the other way round.

        Some posts on this site are delayed for some reason.

        Olivier played perfectly smoothly in this difficult key, using the left F no less. Why did I have to comment on it?

  • Roderick Branch says:

    Watching this fantastic clip again, I’m not sure if I’m more impressed by the oboe switch or by the poker faces of all of the players as it’s happening and immediately afterward, second oboe Rosie Jenkins in particular. No one bats an eye. You can see second oboe attending to after-crisis management once the initial phrase is over–she calmly reaches down, apparently in search of the swab. Total pros, all of them.

  • William Safford says:

    That was really impressive.

    I remember attending a New York Philharmonic concert about a decade ago, in which there was an oboe issue. It happened in The Planets, Neptune. When the oboe solo was supposed to happen, instead there was a pitch approximately a minor third too low, with lots of gurgling, followed by silence. Something similar happened at the next oboe entrance.

    I was told several days after the concert, by a member of the NY Phil, that the issue was the bane of all oboists: water in a tone or register hole.

  • Steve P says:

    I saw something happen to the late William Bennett at a SFSO concert with Ashkenzy (Brahms?). An agitated oboist on stage trying to get a recalcitrant instrument to work during the performance is pretty distracting.

  • Mario Lutz says:

    Faster than any Formula 1 team into the pit!

  • herrera says:

    To play devil’s advocate (it IS The Damnation of Faust):

    1) Not very sanitary. (Or put another way, as sanitary as French kissing someone, there is exchange of saliva.)

    2) Wasn’t it the job of the associate principal, to be ready to jump right in at any time if there’s a problem?

    3) He was quick, bravo, but then again, he did create his own crisis: mismanaging the water build up, and breaking his reed…

    • Anonymous says:

      This kind of instrument switching happens all the time in masterclasses, lessons, etc. And as we see in the clip, sometimes it even happens in live performance. In the oboe world, it’s a necessary part of teaching reedmaking, because both teacher and student need to test a reed as it’s adjusted and readjusted during a lesson. Hopefully, everyone’s brushed their teeth beforehand. Bottom line, if you find exchanging saliva icky, you don’t become a wind player.

      There is no associate principal on stage, or, actually, in the LSO. The solution is to do exactly what you see in the clip. The same is true when, say, the concertmaster breaks a string: the player on the left hands the instrument over and the concertmaster keeps going. If you go to enough concerts, you’ll see this happen from time to time.

      You can “manage” water by swabbing. But water build-up is inevitable. And keys get stuck. And accidents happen, especially in the heat of a concert. If you get a tickle in the back of your throat and cough and I say “stop mismanaging your breathing,” it would sound as stupid as blaming this incident on the oboist.

      The clip showcases the absolute sang-froid and professionalism of the player and those around him, full stop. No devil’s advocate needed.

    • Anon says:

      You are probably the kind of person who never kisses, doesn’t shake hands, does not sit next to strangers in public transport and never has sex, for “sanitary reasons”.

      • Wai kit leung says:

        I think Herrera probably asks before he kisses someone or has sex with someone. It is basic etiquette in most parts of the world, you know …

      • herrera says:

        “anon”, if you want to go down that path, let’s go there: no, unlike Trump, I don’t grab ’em by their uh — “instrument” — and shove it in my mouth and start fingering it and tonguing it without their consent, my deary ; )

        • Anonymous says:

          You’ve already made yourself look foolish with your original comment. You may consider refraining from carrying on embarrassing yourself. Because your remarks continue to highlight how ill informed you are about basic notions of classical music performance, the heat of live concerts (video recorded, no less, as this one was) or the relationship between first and second players in a small section such as this one.

    • Susan Schoneweis says:

      30+ years ago, left my reedcase behind and borrowed a friend’s reed for class on a aFriday. On Monday the director said it anyone who’d bern in close contact with the borrowed reed’s owner should go to the doc as she’d been diagnosed with hepatitis over the weekend. Got a big shot of gamma globulin ….but no hepatitis. Keep a vial of Everclear handy perhaps? 🙂

  • Don Pender says:

    That’s why you need a backup oboe available all the time You never know

  • Barbara says:

    Such a lot of interesting comments and for me I just get – The Media could not be played. So infuriating.

  • John says:

    To all the pompous know-it-alls here, I’d love to see how you would have handled this situation. As an oboist myself, I say brilliantly handled, brilliantly played!

  • Anthony says:

    Every oboist has a “water in the tone hole” horror story. Mine came at a 50th anniversary concert for the orchestra I was with at the time in a new concert hall recently renovated . The hall was full. Anticipation for a great concert was in the air with a well known pianist featured and ready to do his piano magic. Then silence. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed as the lights on stage were brought to full power. The Concert Master rose and gestured to me to play the tuning “A”. The hall’s attention became focused on me. I could somehow feel the focus of those 2000 eyes. Filled with confidence and with a magnificent reed aching to be played, and looking forward to the wonderful oboe solos I had that evening and for which I had practiced diligently, I slowly brought the reed to my lips and I played the most incredible gurgling “A” one can imagine. Not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or wind my watch, I hid behind my music stand, mouthed to myself a string of heavy F bombs, heard some gentle laughter from the audience to add to my discomfort, and asked the 2nd oboe to play the A, which he did. In one’s life there are just a very few seminal moments that linger in memory to be replayed over and over in order to re-experience the powerful emotion of those moments, positive or negative as they may be. That was a big negative one probably on top of the memory stack! I can laugh now 30 years later and share the story, but wow, that was as embarrassing as it gets! It has never happened again.