Heinz Holliger is 80

Heinz Holliger is 80


norman lebrecht

May 21, 2019

The Swiss oboist and composer passed a milestone today.


  • Don Ciccio says:

    Among his many merits is his championship of Koechlin.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Is he still playing the oboe in public?

    • L.F. says:

      Some weeks ago in Bern he played Beethoven and Mozart wind quintets – impeccably – and then piano compositions for four hands by Kurtag and by himself. This was most incredible, what timing! In his hands even a piano becomes just music.

    • Wai Kit Leung says:

      Yes he is.

  • MacroV says:

    I grew up listening to Heinz Holliger’s (HH in our house) recordings, as my oboist brother idolized him. He was the most widely recorded oboist 40 years ago – a regular feature on the local radio station – and few oboists could match his virtuosity. Today the standard of oboe playing is much higher and pretty much any professional can play as well as he did back then. But he arguably set the standard they aimed for. Then there’s the composing and conducting.

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    He was my inspiration when I was growing up. I am sure that was the case for countless others as well. Happy birthday HH!

  • Michael says:

    The greatest interpreter of the Strauss oboe concerto.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Happy Birthday, Maestro Holliger!
    Long may you be able to play beautiful music in the inspiring way you do.
    And long may you be able to keep scraping on your reeds!

  • JPAULO says:

    I know this will not be popular, but he has always sounded like a ruptured goose to me. His technical prowess always amazing, but the unfocused tone and wild intonation always seemed so unrefined to my humble ear. I grew up on the richer tones of the great USA players. I know oboe sound is very regional. I can enjoy European tones too, but all I hear when I listen to Holliger is a gifted technician and a lot of quack. The instability even wrecked the beauty of the line that he was surely hearing in his head. His lengthy life and body of work are beyond admirable, but it shows us where playing levels are today. I feel very safe in saying that his playing would not advance through a single round of any orchestral audition anywhere today. Orchestral playing was of course never his goal. I very much respect him, just never enjoyed his playing. Let the backlash begin. Lol

    • Ellie says:

      Fair enough! I actually find this European / USA style thing hilarious and interesting.

      The Europeans hear US style as bright, quacky and with a horrific pulsing vibrato. Europeans play with a dark and resonant sound to their own ears.

      The funny thing is if you ask US players, they hear their style as dark and resonant and the European style as bright and quacky etc. I cannot fathom it but I believe that’s how they hear it.

      At the end of the day it’s just style and choice. But I will acknowledge that Holliger, being of an older generation, has an older fashioned style to today’s ears, and this basically means more reedy, but some might argue older styles are more individual than today’s crowd who often all aim for much the same sound.

      How does this response sit with you?

      • JPAULO says:

        I agree that much of the individual character of sound is gone. You are totally right that it is all about how we hear things. I guesd more than the bright or dark of Holliger, for me, it’s the wildness. Unfocused. Thanks for the respectful debate !! I would love to have the technical facility on ANY instrument that Mr. Holliger displays.

        • Gerrybaroque says:

          The sound has always been controversial, but surely the intonation is well nigh impeccable? On a hopefully undebatable note, let’s hear it for his early championship of Zelenka!

    • K says:

      I studied oboe with a prominent orchestral player and he commented on Holliger, “how can he stand listening to himself.” So, echoing your comments, and perhaps, not without justification. Of course, Heinz will be remembered in the US as criticizing Tabuteau, an absolute line that shouldn’t have been crossed.I can only imagine that Mr. Holliger felt that, regardless of the tonal differences between himself and most mainstream American players, he should have earned some respect because his technique, his commissioning of some very important works, etc. I still value his Zelenka Trio sonatas recording; quite a marvel!

      • Wai Kit Leung says:

        Holliger, in his late 1990’s interview with UK’s Andrew Palmer, criticized Tabuteau AND Goossens for not commissioning works from great composers of their days. Yet I have never heard British oboists attacking Holliger for “crossing the line”. I was under the impression that only communist leaders were beyond criticism. Perhaps I was wrong.

        • k says:

          Apologies, I do not have the original article/piece that I am referring to, but I’m am very confident that it went beyond being criticized for not commissioning new works. I remember being taken aback by the substance; it seemed almost ad hominem towards Tabuteau and his legacy and very beneath the stature of Holliger. Not sure about your snarky remark about ” only communist leaders” being beyond criticism.

  • Bruce says:

    To the “he sounds great/ he sounds awful” debate, I would say: he sounds like HIMSELF. Anyone who sounds so unique always has admirers & detractors. (Historically, Callas has won the Callas/ Tebaldi wars, but there was no clear winner while they were both singing.)

    Obviously he was always good enough to sound any way he wanted to; what he chose, or what he decided came closest to the “true” sound inside his head, was what we are all familiar with. As with James Galway (whom all flutists admire & respect even though some of us can’t stand listening to him), you could never mistake him for anyone else. For someone like that, it’s almost not relevant, in a way, whether anyone “likes” them; they’re obviously staying true to their inner vision, and that authenticity speaks to audiences on some level.

    Just as Heifetz’s and Horowitz’s legendary technique wouldn’t stand out in a crowd now, his technical virtuosity changed the game for oboe players; it used to be that if you could play Le Tombeau de Couperin, you were as good as you’d ever need to be.

    And his tonal palette, whatever you think of it, certainly broadened the idea of what an oboe can sound like. He’s been an enormous influence that way, whether he’s influencing people to follow his example or avoid it 🙂

  • Sue Macdonald says:

    I agree with much of what has been said- Neil Black once said to me about all the debate about French/German/American oboe tone , something to the effect of : once you become accustomed to the tone of any individual player , that is after a matter of seconds or minutes, what you hear in the hands of a great player , is the music.
    I think this true both of Neil and of Heinz, two of the greatest musicians I have heard who happen to play the oboe! I also agree with some that HH’s intonation is impeccable and whether or not you like his individual sound, the music always speaks eloquently.
    Happy birthday Heinz!

  • Jack says:

    What seems lost on everybody here is the fact that Holliger has had a decades-long career as a soloist. As far as I can tell, he’s the only oboist to have done so. Messiaen, Berio, Carter, Martin, Henze, Lutoslawski, Stockhausen, and Penderecki have all written works for him.

    He’s also a composer of considerable distinction and a respected conductor. Arkivmusic lists no fewer than 94 albums for him.

    Happy Birthday, Maestro Holliger!