Loud fears for Philadelphia’s first oboe

Loud fears for Philadelphia’s first oboe


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2020

This letter appeared today in the Inquirer, warning against the loss of a very particular Philadelphia sound.

Dear Maestro,

The Philadelphia Orchestra is fortunate to have a Music Director of your capabilities and stature, and in that position, I ask you to respect and protect a cherished tradition that has been an integral part of the Orchestra since the days of Leopold Stokowski.

One of the great shining lights in the Orchestra’s history was Marcel Tabuteau, principal oboist from 1915 to 1954, and teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1925 until his retirement. In those capacities, he is rightly credited for raising classical music performance standards in this country to an unprecedented level. His students and colleagues on all instruments learned from him and passed on his musical principles to the generations that succeeded them.

When Tabuteau retired, his student, John de Lancie assumed his position, as later did de Lancie’s student, Richard Woodhams: an unbroken chain of more than 100 years’ duration, advancing a very special musical concept and sound that has contributed significantly to the unique character of the Philadelphia Orchestra. It distresses me and many other knowledgeable musicians, who understand the subtleties of which I speak, that you are considering engaging someone of a different school of playing, thus not preserving the extraordinary tradition that has inspired us for so many years.

I urge you to select a principal oboist of the same school of playing as that of the past. I can say with absolute certainty that there are oboists readily available who can meet your rigorous standards, and who understand Tabuteau’s concepts. You owe it to Philadelphia, to the Orchestra, to future generations, and to yourself, to allow this great tradition to continue unhindered.


Marc Mostovoy

Founder, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia




  • Tradition is the last bad performance says:

    Ye, Gads. This letter which rambles on about “tradition” is the perfect example of why blind auditions are needed. Any player should be hired on merit and the ability to follow the conductor’s directions.

    As for tradition, there are plenty of pianists past and present who claim a lineage back to Beethoven, talk of tradition – and yet remain lousy players.

    • Fridolf says:

      By definition, blind auditions cannot demonstrate a candidate’s “ability to follow the conductor’s directions” or other merits, such as teamwork, flexibility, attitude, and enthusiasm. The screen went up to address certain issues; myriad others arose in its wake. Modern conservatories now “teach to the test” and American orchestras have lost their individual character, as a result.

      • früff says:

        I think you’re conflating two different things. Auditions + screen didn’t change the inability of an audition to “demonstrate a candidate’s “ability to follow the conductor’s directions” or other merits, such as teamwork, flexibility, attitude, and enthusiasm.” An audition never showed those things. Thats what a trial period is for. What the screen did is eliminate biases against women etc, and bias for friends, students, etc.

        The problem with american audition results is that the committees care more about perfection than anything else. Therefore, endless stream of sterile but facile musicians filling the string sections of american orchestras. But that’s not the fault of the screens…

    • Bruce says:

      “A traditionalist is someone who believes that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”

      – something I read somewhere once; might have originally said “a conservative”

  • The View from America says:

    It may well be that a certain “school” of oboe playing is worthy of particular preference. But no group of musicians should have the automatic inside track to land an orchestral position simply because of where or with whom they studied, to the exclusion of all other candidates.

    If it’s a “special sound” the orchestra is looking for — and if, indeed, no other musicians can deliver that sound — then the orchestra will find that player, even if he or she is auditioning behind a screen.

    On top of everything, this sort of exclusionary policy isn’t far removed from the inside-track “legacy” admissions to elite universities like Harvard and Yale — a practice that has now thankfully bitten the dust. This one should, too.

    • sam says:

      Totally agree.

      The tradition, either you hear it, or you don’t, and you can hear it behind a screen, not on a paper resume.

      Otherwise, it’s the Vienna Philharmonic definition of tradition: chairs are inherited from fathers to sons.

    • anon says:

      Inside track “legacy” admission is precisely how many got their jobs. It is time for that to stop.

  • Larry D says:

    The solution is simple. Clone Tabuteau’s DNA. The first Jurassic oboe! People will come from miles to hear it. Spielberg will film it. Soon they can lock the entire orchestra in amber.

  • Fred says:

    I am sympathetic to this argument. The New York Philharmonic changed its character greatly (and not to the better) when it installed a timpanist not of the great New York Goodman/Kohloff tradition. The oboe position in Philadelphia is similar–integral to the sound and tradition of the orchestra.

    On the other hand, some people think that the internationalization of all orchestras–the removal of their distinctive characteristics–is a good thing. I disagree, but there’s no one right answer in this regard.

    • Anon says:

      Actually, Mr. Rhoten is a very fine timpanist, and one the NY Phil is lucky to have.

    • Djeedo says:

      I totaly disagree with your opinion of Markus Rothen, his playing ist fantastic, his sound MUCH more colourful…and he is influencing a new generation of timpani-players in the US.
      He is a gift to the NY phil!!!

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I’ve got to disagree with you there, Fred. The current timpanist of the NY Phil, Markus Rhoten, sounds just fine to me.
      The NY Phil, during Goodman’s uniquely long tenure as timpanist (from Mengelberg through Bernstein and into Boulez) was composed of Italian and Jewish players. Look at the personnel now. Do you honestly think the timpanist is going to change the “sound and tradition of the orchestra”, as you put it, compared to all the other personnel changes over the years?
      Timpanists (and players of all other orchestral instruments) nowadays are extremely well-trained and capable, and in the US anyway, all the teachers of percussion somehow come down from either the Goodman/Firth/Kraft or Duff “teaching trees”.
      Any orchestral player should be chosen by audition (along with a trying-out period playing with the orchestra), no matter who his/her teacher was.
      I was a student of Elayne Jones, who was a student of Goodman. I knew both Goodman and Kohloff personally. And I think that Jones, Goodman, or Kohloff would agree with me.

  • Orchestra musician says:

    It’s time for a new US oboe tradition, and it’s coming through Philly again. If we kept old traditions to extreme, there would be no progress and no change ever. It’s long overdue for that – US has to catch up and be on the same level as EU with the oboe sound, expression and virtuosity. So no need to be afraid, this change is a good one

    • Axl says:

      Yes!!! I totally agreed with you!

    • OrchMusician says:

      I very respectfully disagree. Tabuteau came from the European tradition and painstakingly changed it to create a unique sonority. Many of the very top oboists with major jobs in the US have come from other countries to study this school of playing as they preferred the sound to the alternative. I know several orchestral players here in the US that find the European tradition to be wild, inflexible, and lacking subtlety which leads to the rejection of anyone playing this way by the end of their trial period. I really think the standard has been elevated over here for which we can thank the hard work of Tabuteau and his lineage of students. We all have our bad days, but the artistic ceiling is much higher in the Tabuteau school, as is the expectation of Symphonic oboists in this country.

      • Robin says:

        Interesting … I have in hand, the Master’s thesis by a French oboist (student) who claims Tabuteau brought the “real” French tradition to Philadelphia, this creating a continuity for it while the rest of France migrated its sound and style to match the German. Either way, I am a big fan of two things 1. variety (thereby giving value to the “Tabuteau lineage” while things converge everywhere else) and 2. what sounds good and what works: do musicians need to learn to live with dizzy spells while playing and/or does the audience actually agree this is a better sound? …. And also (besides) with the quality of recordings having changed so drastically, those who CLAIM to reproduce the Tabuteau sound, is that actually the case?

  • Malcolm James says:

    This could be shaping up to be a repeat of Ramon Ortega’s brief tenure as principal oboe of the LA Phil. Europeans and Americans have radically different ideas on how an oboe should sound and Philippe Tondre is going to have his work cutting out adapting. However great an artist he may be, there is such a thing as ‘fit’ and someone who is right for one orchestra may not be right for another. Tradition must never become laziness and can evolve, but putting in someone from a radically different tradition may well be a recipe for discord.

  • Okay, Boomer. says:

    This letter is the perfect example of why classical music is in trouble & has a worldwide reputation for being exclusive, high brow, & resistant to change/moving the art form forward…

    How can we expect to invite new people in, both as musicians & audience members, when this is our mindset within the music world itself? What a shame that this new member of the orchestra is being publicly bashed like this, when they have done nothing but worked their tail off & won one of the most coveted positions in the country. There was a better way to go about this… like, just not at all. I think this appointment is the start of oboists from both sides of the pond being able to play in other countries where they originally would not have been able to due to being from different “schools.”

    Schools of playing are constantly blending & evolving. If everything was meant to stay the same since its origin, everyone should be playing on open hole flutes & baroque oboes.

    This letter is ridiculous.

    • Gerry McDonald says:

      Dear Boomer, please don’t patronise the many stunning players of baroque flutes and oboes in America and elsewhere in your comments!

    • Harold sacks says:

      Phillipe Tondre is not yet signed, sealed or delivered. It may be a long process of negotiation. He has worldwide teaching commitments and plays with at least 2 European ensembles. He would be a wonderful addition and I believe feelings are mutual. However, It will have to be sorted out. Philadelphia has an excellent acting principal who is a Curtis graduate and does not disappoint when called upon for orchestral solo work.

    • MWnyc says:

      There is no new member of the orchestra yet. The principal oboe chair is vacant, and this letter is Mostovoy’s opinion on about how to fill it.

    • MWnyc says:

      Oops. Just read Enough already’s and Malcolm James’s comments: looks like they have filled the position. My apologies.

      • Curtis grad and proud of it says:

        You were correct the first time. The position was offered but no contract has been signed. There is still an opportunity for the orchestra to follow Mostovoy’s advice.

  • Dear old man Mostovoy . Stop clinging to your glory days. You must not be as in the know about the “subtleties” as you claim to be. They announced the new prinicpal oboe publicly. Get over it.


  • Common Sense says:

    Get over it, Marc.

  • Bruce says:

    Two thoughts come to mind simultaneously:

    (a) Like de Lancie and Tabuteau before him, Woodhams has also turned out a lot of terrific students. It would not be at all surprising for one of them to win his job on their own merits.

    (b) Speaking of tradition, the Philadelphia Orchestra has a very strong tradition of hiring players, particularly woodwind players, who studied with members of the orchestra (often but not always at Curtis).

    Between those two points, I don’t think the letter writer has much to worry about.

    That said, it sounds from the letter like there has already been an audition and now they are trying out finalists and invitees? I haven’t been keeping track.

    • Malcolm James says:

      They’ve offered the position and announced Philippe Tondre as the new principal. He has a trial or probation year, so it won’t necessarily work out and, if Marc Mostovoy’s reservations are held by a significant number of people, he may decide that he doesn’t want to stay.

    • Max Grimm says:

      “That said, it sounds from the letter like there has already been an audition and now they are trying out finalists and invitees? I haven’t been keeping track.”

      Based on your comments in the thread linked to below, it seems to have slipped your mind Bruce 😉

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Richard Woodhams sounds rather different from his teacher, John de Lancie. Why should anybody sound just like his teacher?

  • Theo says:

    Sure, great idea: all US orchestra sounds should evolve into one homogenized whole – like a chain of musical Mc Donald’s – brilliant!
    Thank god the Wiener Phil have spent years fighting this kind of nonsensical and monocultural approach!

    • Larry D says:

      Yes, you start letting women join your orchestra and next you have to hire Ronald McDonald. I follow your logic.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    After Alfred Genovese and before John Ferrillo, I heard an oboist on trial with the Boston Symphony. I don’t know who it was, but I believe they were French. I knew immediately that there was no chance of them getting the position because their sound was very French and didn’t blend with the rest of the orchestra at all. I also thought that they were possibly the best orchestral oboist I’ve ever heard.

    The American oboe sound is very safe, in fact all American wind sounds are quite homogeneous rather than some of the European schools where each family of instruments is allowed to speak with a somewhat more individual voice. I don’t know how it developed that way, but I wouldn’t mind a trend away from it.

  • Jim says:

    Dear Marc Mostovoy,

    Wake up.


  • A Klein says:

    Every new principal player of any orchestra goes through adjustments in order to both “fit in” and establish their own bold new ideas. I say let’s be supportive of Mr Tondre and see what light he will bring to this debacle. He won the audition fair and square with support of the conductor and the audition committee. There is no wrongdoing here, no corruption, no teacher begging behind the scenes for his/her student to be hired. The letter above appears to support a system where some players will have a foot in by playing in a certain tradition (and even that is a controversial claim). Let Tondre play!

    The argument that Curtis/Woodhams produced fine oboists is good up to a certain point. However, consider that many Curtis graduates and colleagues of Woodhams were on that Committee. They knew very well what that school of oboe playing could do for their orchestra. Or not. And they voted for Tondre. Now think about that for a second.

    • Doug says:

      Alex, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the notion of Oboe I and II “blending” given players that come from totally different playing and sound concepts. Not to mention playing at very different pitch levels. Thanks.

    • K says:

      Your comments have merit, but I’ve witnessed situations where two “american” school oboists butt heads over slightly different tonal characteristics between them. What will happen when the those characteristics are immense? And somewhat off-topic to this particular post, but an American player would most likely not be considered for a European job and the main reason would be the inability to blend with a European section. With respect, please inform if you know otherwise.

  • drummerman says:

    One wonders why the newspaper printed the letter.

    • Curtis grad, and proud of it says:

      The last I heard we are still living in a country with freedom of opinion and freedom of the press.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    If it is Philippe Tondre, it will just mean that one of the world’s great orchestra’s will get one of the world’s great oboists. Who could ask for anything more?

  • This fine player was selected by the orchestra and the music director. Live with it.

  • John Porter says:

    How ridiculous. Maybe this is why people criticize classical music. At any rate, I recall the Gomberg brothers. One played principal oboe in the New York Phil the other in Boston. They both studied with Tabuteau and sounded vastly different from each other. And, certainly very different from DeLancie or Woodhams or John Mack (all students of Tabuteau or next generation Tabuteau lineage), who all sounded different from one another.

    • Jeff Werthan says:


      I studied with Harold and, for a much shorter time, with Ralph. They did sound different from each other (and some of that difference may have resulted from their choice of oboes; Harold was a Loree guy, and Ralph preferred Al and Paul Laubin’s instruments), but the difference was far from “vast,” as you described it. They were clearly both of the Tabuteau/American school. Tondre, while clearly a superb artist, has an undeniably bright, French sound that is indeed vastly different than the American sound. To paraphrase a line from Fiddler on the Roof;. “May God bless and keep the French oboe — far away from us.”

      À Chacun Son Goût.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Get over it. Several decades ago the Philly did have a terrific, legendary wind section. Some iconic brass players. And a few titans of the podium. Well, those days are gone. Today’s players are technically brilliant. They may have different musical ideas, but so do conductors today. The current maestro is no Stokowski, Ormandy, Sawallisch or Muti. But that’s ok, too. Some of the things he does are brilliant. Nothing is permanent, nothing lasts forever. Heck, even the audiences today are not what they used to be.

  • MCF, historian says:

    It is a sorry thing to see people who are (at least in some cases admittedly) ignorant of what has gone on making comments about this matter. Monsieur Tondre didn’t win any audition “fair and square”: he was brought in by the current conductor who knows no more about the Philadelphia traditions than does the oboist. Far from being a constraining or provincial thing, as most of the commentators apparently believe, Tabuteau’s work was and is universal: applying to all instruments. He instilled in the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski a universality that NO OTHER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA HAS EVER POSSESSED. It would be nice if even a respectable proportion of those quick to comment had any idea of this. Alas, they have not. The matters that Tabuteau effected in the Philadelphia Orchestra decades ago have spread far and wide in North America, and have, to a considerable extent, penetrated Europe as well. It would be well if those responding negatively to Mr. Mostovoy’s plea had ever listened to any of the recordings made by that remarkable ensemble and compared them to the vast majority of other orchestras of that peroid. The proof is there. As time has worn on, lack of distinction has robbed symphonic ensembles of their of their artistic identities: all now sound like they were stamped out of the same mold. This was emphatically not the case 50+ years ago. Mr. Mostovoy
    realizes this, as does any musical person of the requisite age and knowledge to remember when it was possible to tell one orchestra from another in a matter of a few bars on recording. Now this is gone, to the huge detriment of music. What has transpired over the past two generations is not progress: it is dilution. Mr. Mostovoy is among the few who understand the seriousness problem and who has the courage to stand up and state what needs to be done to correct this. The Tabuteau standard is the highest and most rigorous standard of specifically musical (not just technical) attainment ever known in the orchestral world. This matter was understood decades ago, and it a sad thing to see its imminent disappearance. Maybe, with luck, it can be salvaged. It is integrally linked to the future of the orchestral music as a living art form.

  • carld says:

    For anyone interested in a truly deep dive into this subject, there is this: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1469&context=masters

    • Doug says:

      Thanks for this.

      Some advice to you non-oboists: read this entire thesis before you offer your opinion on the situation here.

  • Voice of Reason says:

    It saddens me to see so many comment thread heroes so quick to dismiss Marc Mostovoy’s words as exclusionary or anti-progressive. Of course, this comment nor anything in the Inquirer cannot change the current situation, but some of us who side with Marc have a heavy heart when we think about this hire in Philadelphia.

    With so many great places in the world to study and the shortening of the average tenure for a music director these days, pretty much all orchestras are conglomerations of very different players and ideas from very different conductors. The only orchestra I’ve ever played with which clearly has collective traditions in their own musical thumbprint is the Philadelphia Orchestra.

    The Orchestra does certain things in their phrasing and sounds as a result of decades with similar personnel with similar training and comparatively less turnover at the podium. Even beyond the sound of the oboe section, they do things in a unique and beautiful way all their own, which is so rare in this day and age.

    Mechanically and artistically, American and European oboe players tend to do things very differently, and it is not always fun trying to synthesize the two different approaches in a single oboe section. American oboe sympathizers have every right to complain when our few ICSOM tenure-track positions are threatened: the Americans who were gunning for the position Philippe won would be laughed out of a prelim for any audition in Europe because of their sound alone.

    Any American oboist can appreciate the poetry with which those like Philippe Tondre and Ramon Ortega play, but just because someone comes across the pond playing very beautifully in a very different way doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to plop them into an orchestra so steeped in a different tradition.

    This ultimately sends the message to young kids who want to sound like Richard Woodhams and John Ferrillo that even if you do what you are doing to the best of your ability and nail four rounds of an audition in Verizon hall, it isn’t good enough.

  • Musician says:

    Just hire a European player like LA did since that went over so well.

  • Theodora says:

    If things work as they have in the past with the Philly Orchestra and indeed most other orchestras, the new oboist will be playing on a somewhat tryout basis for two years. Then the orchestra members will probably take a vote to see whether he should have tenure or not. In the Swallisch years they hired an Israeli concertmaster who had been playing in Germany. After two years was deemed a bad fit and he was not given tenure. If the oboe player is not a good fit they will let him know about it in two years time. One would hope that they could be fair as the orchestra seems to be a pretty tight bunch.

  • Harold Emert says:

    The guy won the audition…give another great French musician a break..you have created a tempest in a teapot among oboists around the world !A great orchestra deserves only the best…didnt Irishman Flautist Galway play in Berlin ? And Englishman Rattle took over van Karajan’ s orchestra.The great Concertubuow currently has two Russian oboists, despite the great Dutch tradition of oboe playing.

  • Axl says:

    Oh my goodness…

  • MacroV says:

    I find this “American School” and worship of Tabuteau so annoying. Fine pedagogue, I’m sure, but with the way standards have advanced, he’d never be hired by today’s Philly Orchestra. Or even by your local regional band.

    BTW, the “American School” has branches, or maybe apostates; a couple decades ago there was nearly a Shiite-Sunni schism between followers of John Mack (a Tabuteau student) and Ray Still (not).

    Frankly, I prefer a lot of the Europeans these days: Francoix Lelieux, Ramon Ortega, Lucas Macias Navarro (why oh why did he leave the Concertgebouw?), Albrecht Meyer. The Berlin Phil even managed to hire an English principal oboe (Jonathan Kelley) and it seems to have worked out. Philly will be fine, too.

    • Bruce says:

      ” Philly will be fine, too.”



    • reed says:

      The Berlin example is not anywhere near relevant in this case. The English school is a ‘branch’ of the general European school. Meanwhile, the American and European schools are at this point, two different trees.

      The question is, would a major European orchestra hire an American? Lot’s of European players complain about the ‘traditionalism’ of American oboists, but I’m pretty sure a similar racket would start if an American was hired into a major European orchestra…

      • K says:

        You’re right; we’ll never find out because a major European orchestra would never hire an American oboist trained in and sustaining an American sound.

  • This letter makes many statements as facts, that are in actuality opinions or fudges. For instance, there are many other people besides Tabuteau who can be credited with, “raising classical music standards. . . .”

    Consequently, there are other schools of playing that can be great.

    Also, just because someone is a student of someone else, doesn’t mean that they assume all aspects of their style.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Much ado about nothing, as usual.

  • Townsend Wentz says:

    In the mid 60’s, having been auditioned by Orchestra member Glen Janson, I studied French Horn under Orchestra member Ward Fearn for several years. He taught ‘Tabuteau phrasing’: consciousness of leading tones, breathing, shape & articulation of motif structure. This was not about oboe sound. Tabuteau’s contribution to Philadelphia’s sound was much broader than his own oboe technique.

  • J'aime la musique says:

    I am a subscriber to the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as a former (non-Philadelphia Orchestra) oboist. Here is my take on the opinions expressed (and ideas delineated) in the COMMENTS section:

    1) MALCOLM JAMES may have a point when he predicts that Philippe Tondre could end up like Ramon Ortega. In fact, Mr. Tondre hasn’t signed a contract. It is my understanding that he isn’t sure how much of a week-to-week commitment he wants to make to the Philadelphia Orchestra in light of his international career.

    2) FRED is correct when he states that “the oboe position in Philadelphia” is “integral to the…tradition of the orchestra,” and helps form its “distinctive (sound) characteristics.” Similarly, MALCOLM JAMES also raises the question of whether a musician is a good “fit” for a given orchestra. I have heard (at least once, sometimes twice) every subscription concert in which Mr. Tondre has performed as guest principal oboist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. His tone is more strident and not as focused as the other oboists in the orchestra – he sounds a bit “trumpety” in comparison. Therefore, he doesn’t blend so well with the oboe section and the other woodwinds.

    3) I’m not sure what THEO means when he cites the lack of a “monocultural approach” in Vienna. The Viennese oboe sound and indeed the instrument itself are quite specific. Someone who auditions for the Vienna Philharmonic on a Lorée or Yamaha oboe, for example, could never win a position with that orchestra. Maybe THEO was joking?

    4) ENOUGH ALREADY, COMMON SENSE, JIM, and DRUMMERMAN hardly strengthen their “case” against Mr. Mostovoy with insulting comments like “old man,” “get over it,” “wake up – God,” and “one wonders why the newspaper printed the letter.”

    5) Finally, I’m also not sure what ORCHESTRA MUSICIAN means when he criticizes the “sound, expression and virtuosity” of American oboists, and specifically those in Philadelphia. In his prime, Philadelphia oboist Richard Woodhams’ sound, expression and virtuosity were unmatched. Did ORCHESTRA MUSICIAN ever hear him live?

  • Doug says:

    I find it amazing the number of comments from so many that know SO LITTLE about the oboe here. A few are obviously from oboists themselves but most are so far off the mark that it leads me to wonder why there are people who profess to love classical music but know so little about it, yet open their mouths to offer their opinions to the world.

    “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

  • David P Assemany says:

    This is a silly discussion in my view. I can’t imagine a serious orchestral player or listener would consider this a good idea.

  • Amos says:

    The correlation between the performance of any art form and the relationship between student and mentor is tenuous at best. Regarding world-class oboists, I’d offer the following about Marc Lifschey, Alfred Genovese (both products of Curtis/Tabuteau) and Ray Still. It is well documented that George Szell, who regarded the importance of the Principal oboe as similar to that of the Concertmaster, had a clear preference for ML’s playing to that of AG and after the 59-60 season convinced ML to return to the CO and recommended AG to the Metropolitan. I’ve read a first-hand account of Ray Still turning on the radio and listening to a piece that had already begun and told another oboist in the room that the oboist in the recording was clearly ML and how much he admired the playing. As the other oboist was leaving the building RS supposedly yelled out the window that he had been mistaken that the performance was actually one his.
    At the risk of incurring the wrath of Anglophiles, I would offer that at least in the period from the 40’s-60’s there was a discernible difference between English & “French”-trained oboists in that the former possessed a off-putting honk to their playing which I’ve never heard from a Tabuteau-influenced player. Regardless, I doubt that the PO will be brought down by a new Principal oboe, wherever he was trained, who earns the respect of his/her colleagues.

  • Larry W says:

    For those interested in learning about the source of this discussion, read “Marcel Tabuteau” by Laila Storch. She studied with Tabuteau at Curtis, where she was the first female oboe student. Tabuteau revamped the oboe world with his performance, pedagogical, and reed-making techniques.

    From the book cover, there is an interesting fact that relates to this discussion. “Tabuteau was brought to the United States in 1905, by Walter Damrosch, to play with the New York Symphony Orchestra. Although this posed a problem for the national musicians’ union, he was ultimately allowed to stay, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

    Perhaps history will repeat itself with another French oboist.

  • Nancy Shear says:

    Marc was writing about far more than rigid tradition. He was discussing a concept of sound — tonal coloration, phrasing, the architecture of a piece — that has been part of Philadelphia’s trademark sound for decades. The Tabuteau sound — instantly identifiable — has influenced not just the oboe section but the entire orchestra. Maintaining this sound is not just for the sake of tradition (which, by the way, Leopold Stokowski despised) but to enable a unique and beautiful concept of interpretation to remain alive.

  • Fred says:

    Just for fun, here are Boston’s oboe and clarinet from the 80s into the 90s talking about how Tabuteau’s teaching influenced practically all American woodwind players:


  • Dear Readers:

    I see I hit a raw nerve as evidenced by the harsh tone of some responses to my Philadelphia Inquirer letter shown on SlippedDisc. I appreciate hearing everyone’s views, especially those with an understanding that there are significant differences in approaches between American oboists of the Tabuteau tradition and their counterparts in Europe. Most Europeans play the oboe in a very different manner than we do here in America. Our oboe sections are unified in style. You can be assured that a premier European Orchestra would not engage an American trained principal oboist—the concepts are just too disparate.

    For example, I would say there is nary an oboist trained in this country who doesn’t make the type of reed developed by Tabuteau and John Mack. The embouchure formation and wind pressure differ significantly. Nor is the oboe positioned the same way. Even the concepts of phrasing are dissimilar. All this must be taken into account.

    The American style of oboe playing was developed in Philadelphia by Marcel Tabuteau and carried forth throughout the country by his students and colleagues. A principal oboist trained in this tradition is what the Philadelphia Orchestra needs to achieve homogeneity of sound and phrasing. Lineage indeed matters.

    Marc Mostovoy

    • Hal Sacks says:

      For the record. Peter Smith the Orchestra’s excellent Associate Principal studied with both Richard Woodhams and Louis Rosenblatt at Curtis.

    • anon says:

      Oboists who don’t play in the American style (which may include Americans who choose not to sound that way) have been excluded from the job market in the US for almost a century. Would you prefer that to go on indefinitely? I wonder if this exclusivity is what non-oboists (and audience members) in the US prefer.

      • K says:

        No European orchestra would hire an oboist trained in the American school. These oboists “have been excluded from the job market” in Europe also “for almost a century.” Why does this not also ignite your indignation?

  • Stephanie Stephanie says:

    Tabuteau’s teaching on note grouping has influenced wind players, brass players, string players, and singers for generations. He has left a legacy of excellence. Too many “young” conductors think they know it all and want to create “their” sound, that their way is THE way, or that “new is better.” Sorry, Yannick, this is where your up until now excellence has taken a wrong turn. You MUST seek a player trained in this time-honored tradition.

  • Some Trumpet Dude says:

    This topic is endlessly fascinating, and has been a preoccupation of mine since the announcement. If our discourse maintains it’s heretofore thoughtfulness, Maestro Mostovoy will have nothing to regret by raising the question.
    I grew up in Philadelphia and have listening to Mr. Woodhams for 35 of his years with the orchestra, and can still hear his usual little onstage warmup. Even as a young trumpet player, I would emulate his phrasing and legato. I love the fact that the orchestra has maintained much of it’s character through changing times. Although it’s inconceivable that this of all oboe sections would undergo such a radical change, I believe Mr. Tondre to be a truly special talent, and word is the section quite enjoys playing with him. Please correct me if someone knows otherwise.
    Could it be that this could be the beginning of a new tradition, instead of the continuation of an old one?
    This maestro has more than enough confidence and charisma to sell it and this oboist may have the gifts to make it work. I am eager to see!

  • John Delaney says:

    They lost it

  • JJ, Oboist says:

    I agree with Marc Mostovoy. I agree with everything he said. His letter is respectful and thoughtful. And beautifully written. He is right. Marcel Tabuteau did raise performance standards in this country. His sound and musical concepts have endured. They have inspired many musicians, both oboists and non-oboists, and have contributed significantly to the character of the Philadelphia Orchestra – and other orchestras. His teaching, his style of playing are worth preserving. I would not want to see them begin to disappear, particularly in the city where they began and have continued for over 100 years.

    The sound of the oboe affects the character of the entire orchestra. Have the wishes of the orchestra’s oboe section been considered? Did they request that the orchestra hire an oboist with a completely different sound and style of playing? They will be working as closely with the new player as will anyone in the orchestra. What about pitch? Will there be a difference in the level of pitch? Marcel Tabuteau was known for keeping the pitch down, for fighting the tendency for the pitch to go up.

    Many European orchestras have their own traditions, their own styles of oboe playing. I wouldn’t advocate for one of those orchestras to hire an oboist with a completely different approach and sound. I would respect their traditions.

    I hope the Philadelphia Orchestra will reconsider the idea of hiring a European style principal oboe. This is not a criticism of another style of playing. This is about continuing a beautiful and admired tradition that is respected by so many of us – about preserving it in the place where it is strongest and where it began.

    It is worth preserving.

  • David M Gaines says:

    Also beautifully said. Even though I have made my peace with the decision, I too treasure the unique sound of this magnificent ensemble and my hope was for Peter Smith to be the successor to his teacher. But there are two factors that I can’t ignore. One is that the world is now so interconnected, regional individualities are hardly sustainable in the long run. And consider that Tabuteau did not make his contribution by bringing the French school to America, but through his creativity and sensitivity to the needs of the orchestra and the hall he experimented and eventually landed on a novel beautiful approach. No one in the winds carries on the traditional sound of their predecessor. We may need to embrace the beginning of a new era.

  • Skippy says:

    Middlebrow symphony-goer here:

    Whatever you folks decide on: It all sounds fine to me.

  • Plushj says:

    Nit picking and navel gazing is going on in this thread. It is tiresome. All mentioned are outstanding players.