Most successful oboists of all time

Most successful oboists of all time


norman lebrecht

October 25, 2019

10 Jim Carr, Canadian Cabinet minister, formerly played oboe in the Winnipeg Symphony.

9 Arvo Pärt, Estonian composer, played oboe in the army

8 Marcel Tabueteau, taught US oboists to sound French

7 William Herschel, royal astronomer

6 John de Lancie, got a concerto out of Richard Strauss

5 Mitch Miller, bandmaster and record supremo

4 Jennifer Lawrence, actor, played oboe in her school band

3 Georg Philipp Telemann, baroquepop composer

2 Karl Jenkins, classipop composer

1 George Martin, Beatles producer



  • Edgar Self says:

    Impressive list, Norman. The Canadian cabinet minister is a surprise. Rudolf Kempe played oboe in the Leipzig Gewandhaus before making a name for himself as conductor of Wagmer and Richard Strauss., &tc. Now on to bassoons.

  • Harold Lewis says:

    Leon Goossens?

  • jsot says:

    How about the Paganini of the oboe a.k.a Heinz Holliger?

  • Larry says:

    Norman, I’m surprised that a proper Englishman such as yourself forgot Leon Goosens!

    On this side of the The Pond, there were the Gomberg brothers – Ralph (principal, Boston Symphony) and Harold (principal, NY Philharmonic.) I’d also add Joseph Robinson, principal with NY Phil from 1978 – 2005.

    If you’re including “former” oboists (like Ms. Lawrence), I’d mention Christopher Wilkins, current music director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra and Akron (OH) Symphony, formerly M.D. in San Antonio.

  • fcg says:

    Andy Mackay of Roxy Music.

  • Jack says:

    Add Edo de Waart, Charles Mackerras, & Rudolf Kempe to your list.

  • Oboe says:

    Ray Still, the late principal of the Chicago Symphony. Very powerful because of the number of students he left behind and and a superb master of the instrument. The RCA recording of the beginning of the second movement of the Brahms violin concerto with Heifetz and Reiner proves my point.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Sadly, Jim Carr, Canada’s Trade Minister, has been diagnosed with cancer.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Well, an odd concept results in an odd list. With an odd little dig at Telemann to boot. Baroquepop?

    John de Lancie by the way also “got” the beautiful Flower Clock “out of” Jean Françaix.

    A case can be made that Ray Still’s staring down the assembled might of the Chicago Symphony organization and getting his job back is an accomplishment that warrants being somewhere on this list. Jean Martinon would beg to differ I suppose.

    • Oboe says:

      I think Donald Peck (CSO flautist) would also beg to differ. I heard that Still and Peck sat next to each other for more than 40 years and didn’t speak after a musician union fight. One of the most famous feuds in CSO history.

  • Guest123 says:

    This list is incomplete, imho, without Edo de Waart.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Rudolf Kempe

  • Bramwell Tovey says:

    Jim Carr is a wonderful man and a dedicated and much respected politician as a member of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

    He was an esteemed extra at the Winnipeg Symphony for many years, then a board member but not actually principal.

    Sadly, he announced earlier today that he is suffering from Multiple Myeloma and is entering a period of treatment. His many friends on all sides of the political divide will be wishing him well.

  • Nigel Simeone says:

    Nice list. Rudolf Kempe and Charles Mackerras we’re both successful oboists in their younger days.

  • NN says:

    And here are some oboe heroes:
    Léon Goossens (1897–1988)
    Heinz Holliger (*1939)
    Lothar Koch (1935–2003)
    Albrecht Mayer (*1965)

    • Oboe says:

      Don’t forget Hansjörg Schellenberger (1948), wonderful principal of the Berlin Phil under Karajan and Abbado. Albrecht Mayer was a worth successor.

  • Adam Stern says:

    I remember something the late Martin Bernheimer wrote about Heinz Holliger after the latter played a concert in Los Angeles: “Heinz Holliger could become to the oboe what James Galway has to the flute, if he had a lot less taste.”

  • Plush says:

    Where is Ray Still?

  • Nick2 says:

    I wonder how you rate “successful”, for in several cases the person named was successful only at things other than playing the oboe? As for today, no mention of Heinz Holliger or Maurice Bourgue? Or even Anthony Camden whose Naxos discs of the Albinoni concerti have sold many hundreds of thousands of copies.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    So I guess Bill Clinton would be the most successful saxophonist…of all time?

  • Una says:

    So was our own wondeful principle baritone at ENO in the 80s and subsequent teacher, Neil Howlett.

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    How is the ranking determined and what is its utility?

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    How did getting an oboe concerto out of Richard Strauss compare with getting an oboe concerto out of Mozart?

  • Hal Sacks says:

    Mitch Miller got to play the premiere of the Strauss Oboe Concerto, since DeLancie was not principal in Philly at the time. Marcel Tabuteau refused to allow John to premiere it there so he gave it to Mitch Miller who premiered it with the CBS Orchestra.

  • It appears that for most oboists “success” is getting *out* of the oboe biz.

    I think William Herschel deserves to be higher than #7. He is genuinely famous for having discovered the planet Uranus, the first time anyone had spotted a new one since the Stone Age.

    Move him to #4 and move Jennifer Lawrence to #11.

  • You forgot Blair Tindall, author of “Mozart in the Jungle,” which in turn became an enormously popular four-season series on Amazon Prime.

  • Phillip Ayling says:

    Since the criteria for being a ‘successful oboist’ seems rather broad, I might include in no particular order:

    Edo de Waart and Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductors;

    Joe Walsh, Guitarist/Singer/Composer;

    and since the original list includes ‘George Martin, Beatles Producer’ then perhaps mention should be made of oboist Margaret Eliot.

    Besides being George Martin’s teacher (and many others during her time at Guildhall School of Music and Drama), she offered up the oboe to her children Peter, Jane and Clare Asher. Peter didn’t continue with the oboe, but became a hugely successful Pop performer and Music Producer.

    She also taught Paul McCartney the recorder and let him use the piano in her oboe studio where he created some of his early compositions.

  • Eliza says:

    This list is misleading and wrong! Only two of the ten people on this list are famous and successful oboists whose success came from performing/teaching the oboe. The rest are people that have played the oboe in some way. This list should be comprised of famous and successful oboists that got that success from working at playing the oboe, not acting, composing, or producing. Oboists. This list is garbage and should be removed.

  • Edgar Self says:

    nlther vote for the great Leon Goossens and Ray Still. Best wishes to Jim Carr, and a first mention I think of Karl Steins of Berlin.

  • Lisa Nelsen says:

    Michael Kamen, film composer
    Love the list though…thanks
    Lisa x

  • Heinz Holliger, Leon Goosens and Charles MacKerras are notable names you’ve forgotten

  • Amos says:

    IMO placing Tabueteau eighth with the note taught US oboists to sound French gives both his importance and talents serious short shrift. He influenced generations of oboists many who became Principals and were indispensable to their orchestras. In addition, his role in influencing the sound of the PO was as important as the string players.