Just in: Met principal oboe heads out to Philly

Just in: Met principal oboe heads out to Philly


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2018

We hear that Nathan Hughes, Principal Oboe of the Metropolitan Opera since 2006, has won the audition for the vacancy at the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was the only person from yesterday’s audition in Philadelphia to be offered trial weeks with the orchestra, but the audition is still ongoing.

Either way, he’s going from one Yannick orchestra to another.

No clear indication yet when, or why.



  • Anonymous says:

    Goodbye Philly School.

  • Malcolm James says:

    When – presumably from 2018/19 after Richard Woodhams has retired.

    Why – the same reason as all the other Met principals have left for principal jobs with top symphony orchestras.

    • Antonia says:

      And why is this? (Newbie here and a pianist…Not directly in the orchestra world.)

      Thanks, really want to know. Is it because the Met is going downhill unless its fortunes turn?

      • Jeff Rathbun says:

        I think part of it is the much longer time involved in performing operas, as well as playing in the pit. The Met musicians work harder than most professional musicians when you add up the hours. As a result of that grueling schedule, they also have the best pension in the business, and they certainly earn it. I imagine many of them would welcome the opportunity to play onstage for a symphony concert more often.

        I’m not saying that being a symphony musician is a better job than being an opera orchestra musician – but I can understand why some make that switch.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Also have a wider repertory in a symphony orchestra compared to an opera orchestra. Symphony orchestras also make regular tours, which can sometimes be quite interesting, at least if it is not too often.

  • Confused says:

    Yes…. why???????
    Gone are the days when the world had different unique styles of Oboe playing.
    Nathan is a fine player and clearly a superior “audition athlete”. But a nuanced,personal artist…he may not be. He plays with a sound and style that is lovely but without a distinctive musical personality.
    So that is it for the Philadelphia style.
    In with the 21st century and the pervasive move to the “middle of the road”.
    Goodbye Dick, Marcel and JDL, it was nice while it lasted.

    • Will says:

      It’s called ‘evolution’… playing style can’t possibly be frozen in a time-warp!
      The ‘Tabuteau style’ evolved into the JDL style and then into the Woodhams style… no other place to go after that, surely? Time for a fresh start!

      Here in the UK we are still recovering ( after nearly 100 years) from the 1920s outbreak of the L. Goossens disease, which in some orchestras still shows no signs of abating.
      The greatest UK orchestral principal oboists of the last 50 years were (all 4 now of ‘blessed memory’) Roger Lord, Michael Winfield, Roger Winfield and Neil Black.

      • Don Drewecki says:

        The JDL style was the Tabuteau style, but even more perfected. Woodhams started out the same way, but his tone has changed in recent years and he now sounds little like like his two predecessors. The Philly Orchestra style will now change, probably not for the better, just different.

        If anyone really wants to know what the MT style was like, listen to Arturo Toscanini’s 1941-42 recordings, on Sony/BMG/RCA — listen for the oboe solos in the Schubert Ninth second movement; the Tchaikovsky Sixth (throughout); Debussy’s Iberia and La Mer (throughout); and Strauss’s D&T (especially the beginning); and then add in Ormandy’s remarkable 1947 recording of Debussy’s La Damoiselle Elue (the first seven minutes or so) to hear MT in his prime. As for JDL, listen to the Mahler Tenth from 1965 under Ormandy, and you’ll hear that same style, but with a slightly slower vibrato and even longer phrases, but the same remarkable tone. Does Woodhams play this way today? No, but on his own terms he’s still superb. I doubt that any oboist today sounds like MT and JDL a half century ago.

        Is there anyone at the Curtis Institute who is taught in this same MT/JDL way anymore? Probably not.

        • Amos says:

          If you want to hear the MT “influence” performed by a superb musician listen to any Cleveland Orchestra recording featuring Marc Lifschey.

          • Ruben Greenberg says:

            I agree: Lifschey was an incredible musician. The Tabuteau students-that made up a complete generation-were actually quite different from each other. I don’t think Lifschey, Gomberg (the New York Gomberg), Genovese and Mack had all that much in common.

          • Don Drewecki says:

            Agreed — Lifshey was sensational. Listen to the Sony Masterworks Heritage reissues of Stravinsky’s mono recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra.

    • Marcus JB says:

      Definitely agree with you. Nathan plays very well but he is not a great artist of the caliber of many other oboe players who are maybe not “superior audition athletes” as you say.

  • Raymond says:

    Not to mention all the ways one evaluates one job against another: work schedule, housing costs, spouse and children needs and preferences, commute, teaching commitments or not, repertoire, mid-life crisis, etc.

  • Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia says:

    Just to clarify, he has been asked to play some weeks in the Philadelphia Orchestra, when Yannick is conducting, as a next step in the process, (and was the only candidate asked to do this) but has not been officially offered the job at this point.

  • Carmen says:

    Apparently he’ll also be doing a trial in Chicago, so who knows which he’ll choose!

  • herrera says:

    Perfect solution for him: keep both positions and play only when Yannick is conducting.

    • herrera says:

      Also, it would have been awkwaaaard for YNS to have turned down NH for the Philadelphia job, because YNS would be seeing NH every other week at the Met ; )

      • Raymond says:

        Does Philly not use blind auditions?

        • Dan says:

          For the first rounds sure. Once you get to the finals and ensemble rounds plus trial weeks, the screen comes down and the music director is solely responsible for a hiring decision based on the recommendation of the audition committee.

          • Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia says:

            Actually, in our current contract, the candidate needs at least 8 votes of the 11 member committee in addition to Yannick’s vote to be hired.

      • Emil says:

        Given the number of internal candidates applying for sub/associate/principal positions at nearly all auditions and who almost never get the job, I don’t gather it’d be too awkward, or a judgment on the musician’s quality.

  • George Glass says:

    Principal oboe since 2006*

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Great player! I think he’s also being considered for Chicago.

    • herrera says:

      He better have an iron-clad contract with the Met that guarantees his return, Chicago’s tenure process is brutal and career ending.

      • MacroV says:

        It’s pretty standard at the MET and elsewhere that you can take a year off to try out the new orchestra.

        • Bruce says:

          Sometimes, however, the new orchestra’s tenure process takes 2 years, and then you might be out of luck. (Sometimes the person’s original orchestra will give them another year and sometimes they won’t, resulting in a year of limbo possibly followed by unemployment.)

  • Saul Davis says:

    I wonder if Jeffrey Rathbun took the audition.

    • Jeff Rathbun says:

      No, I did not take the audition, but thanks for thinking of me! I have been busy writing an orchestra piece for the Cleveland Orchestra that we will most likely premiere this September. Otherwise, it would have been tempting to have a chance to play with such a great orchestra.

      I haven’t taken any auditions in many years (my audition heydays were in the 80s and 90s), but I have enjoyed playing guest principal oboe with the San Francisco and Chicago Symphonies in recent years. One never knows what the future may hold, but whoever is selected in Philly will have some big shoes to fill, but very likely be able to create their own tradition of excellence.

  • mike gamburg says:

    Nathan is a great player and would be a wonderful addition to either Chicago or Philadelphia.

  • Joseph McGuire says:

    Get your facts straight Norman. American orchestra musicians who get a trial with an orchestra don’t claim to have won an audition. YOU DO NOT WIN UNTIL YOU ARE OFFERED THE POSITION!!!

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia, who comments above, is the solo English horn with Phila Orch. She probably witnessed the auditions and tells us that the process continues. I believe that they use a screen for early rounds but not for finals. The possibility of further invitations for trial weeks with Yannick is still an open possibility. IMHO, it will be several months before this is settled. It is premature to say that any candidate has the gig to replace Woodhams.

    Richard Woodhams has been in the principal chair for 40 years and his style and sound have evolved; just listen to the final Ormandy recordings (late 70s) and the newest discs with Yannick to understand the evolution. Today, his sound and musical approach vary according to the repertoire which might be the new “Philly” sound. He will probably continue to teach at Curtis after he leaves the orchestra in summer 2018.

    Congratulations and thanks to a great artist and performer.

    • Amos says:

      Sorry, but the Philadelphia sound underwent a dramatic transformation when Muti took over. The Main Line audiences were furious about the loss of the bloated string sound but RM won over the orchestra and left a much more flexible instrument than he inherited. Too bad the board wouldn’t build a new hall sooner!

  • Evan Thee says:

    Mr. Mack’s legacy continues! Way to go Nathan!