Oboe star, fired by Curtis, has no idea why

Oboe star, fired by Curtis, has no idea why


norman lebrecht

August 14, 2021

Richard Woodhams, -retired principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, has been told by the Curtis Institute that his contract will not be renewed.

‘My recurring question is why,’ he said.

Curtis has refused to comment, except to say it has no immediate replacement.

Social media are replete with speculation.

Woodhams succeeded his teacher John de Lancie at Curtis in 1985.

It’s a wretched way to end.



  • Curtis Employee says:

    He was fired because he opposed the hiring of the “Imani Winds”. Woodhams was not fond of the idea of sharing teaching duties with someone else. Young students need consistency, and not conflicting opinions. This idea was tried out with the Curtis clarinet studio several years ago, but ended up being a disaster…..

    • Curtis Faculty Member says:

      That’s not true. He wasn’t in favor, but didn’t go to war over this. Woodhams is gone for other reasons. And guess, what, these are not tenured faculty positions. Curtis has the right to not renew a contract and it’s not the first time. The Imani Winds are not going to be teaching private lesson, only coaching wind quintet rep, giving workshops on entrepreneurship, etc. Woodhams’ doesn’t know the wind quintet rep, particularly as the Imani’s do.

      • Curtis Employee says:

        Uhh Woodhams absolutely does know the Wind quintet repertoire. He had played in the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet for years on top of his job in the orchestra, as well a numerous wind quintet performances during his time at Aspen and Marlboro festivals. He may not have played exclusively in a wind quintet like the imani winds have done, but to say that someone with his experience does not know the repertoire, is just not correct. He has 50 years of chamber music experience, I don’t think anybody in the Imani winds can say that at the moment.
        I know very well that Curtis can just get rid of someone without flinching, but there are ways of dealing with things, and Curtis has a history of not having a clue on how to deal with situations. For example, Curtis does not show any respect to elder faculty members, and will come up with lame excuses to get rid of them to make way for the “new”, or make their position a living hell that are forced to leave on their own. This situation with Woodhams comes to mind first, Donald Montanaro, Ford Lallerstedt, Otto Werner Mueller, and I’m sure the list goes on and on.

        • Wind Quintet Player says:

          The Philadelphia Wind Quintet played a narrow repertoire that is a fraction of what groups like the Imani Winds have created through commissioning. There’s a whole world of rep that a Woodham’s wouldn’t have the first clue about as the wind quintet world has expanded exponentially, thanks to the Imanis. It’s not just being a full time group, its about reimagining the repertoire and role of such a group, including commissions of composers such as Wayne Shorter, making improvisation central.

          • Woodhams Student says:

            The Philadelphia Wind Quintet certainly did not play a “narrow repertoire”. You’re not looking at it from a historical lens. For its time, they gave premieres of all sorts works, and played new music ALL THE TIME. I have many programs of theirs that they did in the past. Woodhams was part of that once John DeLancie retired.
            Not only did both those men increase the wind quintet repertoire, they also increased the repertoire for solo oboe and orchestra, and were part of an orchestra that constantly premiered works. Having studied with Richard Woodhams for four years at Curtis, I can tell you that he was absolutely aware and well versed in all the new works/techniques that were coming out. Just because he is pretty much retired from performing, does not mean he can’t help a student become a musician in the 21st Century. I’m sure the Imani’s are great at what they do, but one can have both. It’s a shame that Woodhams and Imani winds can’t be at Curtis together.

          • WWplayer says:

            I just love when “undergraduates” give their “hot take” on the players from big 5 orchestras like they know what they are talking about.

            Woodham’s is a household name, he will survive the test of time as will all the music dedicated to him and the Philly WQuintet. (Which in quality and quality overshadows anything Imani have done).

            If the rumour is actually true and Curtis let him go over Imani, I weep for the future of Classical music and quality of institution.

            Curtis traded the master of his craft for mediocrity. They are good salesmen but if we are talking about product quality it is very much subpar. I doubt there is anything musically enriching for the students that will come out of their tenure.

        • CurtisGrad says:

          Uh, Eleanor Sokoloff taught piano for 82 years before she passed away last year. She was 106. No one ever tried to get rid of her.

  • Axl says:

    Whoa!! If he hasn’t doing any kind of wrong – why on earth Curtis would firing such an icon / oboe legend??
    He definetly deserve better place to teaching!

  • Alphonse says:

    Obviously many of his students have gone on to enjoy immense success (it seems that the oboe and double bass studios at Curtis have the highest success rate for alumni winning major orchestra jobs) – but it’s an open secret that his instructional methods- much like those of his teacher de Lancie and Tabuteau before him – could border on psychologically abusive. I personally know a couple of superb oboists who studied at Curtis with him and went on to quit music completely- and they cite Woodhams as the reason. Just something to ponder.

    As an unrelated aside, as a horn player myself, I have to say that the late Jerome Ashby, who was the sole horn teacher at Curtis from 2000 until his untimely death at the end of 2007, could not have been more different. An endlessly kind, compassionate, mild-mannered, and supremely gifted man. He remains sorely missed.

  • Herbie G says:

    Have I missed something here? It says that he is the ‘retired’ principal oboist. Is retired here being used as an adjective or the past participle of a transitive verb? In other words, did he decide to assume that status, or did someone else ‘retire’ him (in which case is this a euphamism for ‘sacked’?).

    In any case, if he retired, or even if he was retired, how come he was disappointed that they didn’t renew his contract?

    If he is looking for another job, all he would need to put on his CV is that he succeeded John de Lancie, the instigator of Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto!

  • Anon says:

    Salute to one of the greatest double reed players of all time. He was truly a musical poet.
    Bravo on a phenomenal career as both performer and teacher.
    Your music will live forever Dick!

  • BigSir says:

    Probably time to give the new principal a chance.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I’m sad to read this. Mr. Woodhams served Philly so wonderfully over the years. I’m not a big oboe maven, but I really liked his playing. I’ve heard him interviewed on the radio and he seemed like a genuinely likable person too

  • Appalled says:

    Richard Woodhams [redacted] has a history of abusing students, verbally, emotionally, mentally and financially. Stories abound of him throwing a student’s oboe against the wall, going into violent rages during lessons, threatening to throw a music stand at a student in front of a whole class, and of students abandoning oboe altogether after graduating from Curtis, many with severe emotional and mental illness. This is not an “old school” dilemma but the story of a sick man who prevented his students from rising to his level of achievement – so much so indeed that in 35 years of teaching at Curtis he has produced no student able to carry on his own legacy in the Philadelphia Orchestra. To claim his demeanor as “old school” is as worthless as claiming the same for Jascha Brodsky, the Curtis violin teacher who sexually abused his underage students. Of course, Richard Woodhams was a fabulous oboist and orchestral player, and to many (who didn’t study with him) actually quite a nice guy. That of course does not represent his demeanor once the studio door was closed. While Curtis has not revealed the reason for his quick dismissal, those who studied with him know all too well what the reasons would be. Richard Woodhams at the very least owes his students an apology for the mistreatment that went on his lessons, and should come clean to them and to the music world with the reasons why he is such a tyrant, destructive instructor. Kudos to Curtis for letting him go.

    • A “quick dismissal”… after only 36 years.

    • reed says:

      ‘so much so indeed that in 35 years of teaching at Curtis he has produced no student able to carry on his own legacy in the Philadelphia Orchestra.’

      I’m in no place to comment on everything else with absolute certainty, but I think this part’s quite a stretch. He’s one of the most prolific teachers in terms of getting students into major orchestras, and it’s a pretty big stretch to put the entire burden of the ‘loss’ of one hotly and controversially contested chair on him.

      That being said, with caution not to fill the sordid rumor mill cycle, what you’ve said reflects what I’ve heard about his… teaching style. I first heard about it through an acquaintance who was studying with one of his students, who had adopted this supposed Woodhams style of teaching. Interestingly enough, this student, although not a student of Woodhams, has also noted the oboe/reed throwing phenomena, as well as the full range of verbal teardown. Apparently, this tradition has been passed down…

    • Anon says:

      Know anyone who’s studied with Maurice Bourgue?

  • Chicagorat says:

    Woodhams is a longstanding buddy of Muti. The two men have an affinity and share a worldview. My best guess: he has engaged in the same activities as Muti. Only, Curtis is not ran by Jeff Alexander.

    Oh by the way: Woodhams is the man who successfully plotted with Muti to install his protege as principal oboe at the Chicago Symphony, in spite of the audition committee having initially voted to hire a different, Asian candidate. (But who is Boss in Chicago? Certainly not a Canadian)

    • Anonymous says:

      Yep … listen to that CSO oboe bombing his entrance in the pathetic Italian Masterworks CD, cavalleria, 1:30

      pretty much the best Muti and Chicago have to offer these days

    • CSOA Insider says:

      I very much doubt that Woodhams’ activities could ever match Muti’s. And I very much doubt that Curtis would enable Woodhams in the way that Alexander enables Muti.

      But, like CSO proxies wrote elsewhere on this blog, the public will “discover the truth” by themselves. They will discover how Alexander is enabling Muti’s unacceptable and unprincipled behavior.

    • Curtis Employee says:

      What nonsense! I can tell you for certain that Will Welter was hired with the approval of the audition committee. This is not something I’m making up, it was told to me by several people who were THERE. You sound like an extremely jealous oboist to me.

      • Chicagorat says:

        Oh absolutely, you are correct. The committee approved him, after they had approved the first Asian candidate, and after the Godfather ordered them to undo the first vote and get the second vote right. Or else …

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      If there’s truth in these allegations, I’m sorry for these things happening and withdraw my naive response. I frankly try to ignore orchestra politics as much as possible. If true, I believe this type of behavior catches up to everyone at some point. I’m mostly interested in the music, as most folks are. However, I’m not a big fan of Mr. Muti from a musical standpoint – at least in terms of his appropriateness for Chicago – or as an individual.

    • tweedledee42 says:

      Take a nap, watch TLC for your fix of drama, and go to therapy, in that order. Unhinged commentary. Do you even play an instrument?

    • Mark Coffer says:

      In the collective bargaining agreements of all major American orchestras, the music director has the right to appoint principal players, though it rarely happens that way.

  • Brettermeier says:

    “his teacher John de Lancie at Curtis in 1985.”

    Q’s father? Fascinating.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Those in the business know that he is a wonderful player and the holder of the torch of the Philadelphia Wind School as first codified by Tabuteau then Kincaid, De Lancie, and others.

    However, he has destroyed many young musicians and taken away their joy of making music and that is not something to be proud of.

    He has had success, true. But Phil Jackson had success coaching Michael Jordan. If you get the best talent in the world, you’re going to be successful independent of your skill as a teacher and coach.

    Perhaps it’s time for a new way of teaching at the Curtis Institute.

    • True North says:

      It certainly is time for a new way, not just at Curtis, but everywhere. The “Whiplash” style of teaching just isn’t acceptable anymore, and good thing, too. Nobody will miss it, except perhaps a few tough-acting trolls in the comments here.

    • Ed Ingold says:

      Woodhams played the Strauss as though he like it. Loved it.

  • Trying Triangles says:

    This teacher smashed his students’ oboes against the wall? How instructive or destructive is that? Such a beautiful and delicate instrument. If he had thrown triangles or gongs I would have forgiven him.

  • ohsnap says:

    Curtis should give their reason(s) so we don’t all have to speculate based on the posts of jaded oboists.

  • christopher storey says:

    What I find difficult to believe about the behaviour described in this thread, particularly the throwing of a student’s oboe against the wall, is that he was not summarily dismissed at the time. This is ( alleged) misconduct of the highest order ; the fact that dismissal did not follow calls the accuracy of the story into question

    • Bill says:

      Does that mean you also do not believe Jascha Brodsky assaulted Lara St. John? Or is oboe-throwing a more heinous crime than forcing yourself on a teenage girl?

    • BRUCEB says:

      Given the Lara St. John story, it’s not hard to believe they used the same treatment on Woodhams’ student (if s/he even reported it to administration): No one will believe you, and even if it’s true, no one cares.

    • MacroV says:

      First, there is a difference between being fired/dismissed and not having your contract renewed.

      Second, while I don’t have any connection to Woodhams, I know people in the oboe world who years ago told me about Woodhams being, well, let’s just say difficult as a teacher and best avoided. So this probably doesn’t come as a shock to a lot of people.

  • Phil Carter says:

    With the emergence of more tuition free music conservatories in the US, Curtis can no longer afford to allow such behavior.

  • H Rosen says:

    He’s not the only one…Gary Graffman has resigned, as has Jennifer Higdon. The once great Institution is falling to its knees. Has been in a steady downward spiral since Roberto Diaz took over, failed to replace Otto Werner Müller, and decided that touring himself around the world is what would make Curtis great again. Maybe it’s time this small time viola player with the greatest chip on his shoulder made way for someone who needs Curtis to be great rather than to promote Roberto Diaz.
    I will repeat this. Gary Graffman is no longer on faculty….the most successful teacher of the last 20 year and a legend, gone.