martin hebert tackles 10 questions

true story: at some point during yuja wang’s knockout performance of the rach 3 in february, i suddenly heard somebody in the front floor seats singing along.  seriously, i fully expected to see security running down the aisle at any moment.  after craning my neck to scope out the situation, turns out what i actually heard was marty hebert playing this insanely beautiful passage on the oboe.  this guy can blow, i tell you what.

what goes into being the principal oboe for the band and how long have you been doing this insanely phenomenal work?

This is my fifth season with the OSO.  I’ve been playing professionally in orchestras for quite a few years, mostly as principal.  The position of first oboe holds it own leadership qualities in an orchestra.  By virtue of the way it has been traditionally used in symphonic music from the Baroque to the Romantic, it is very often the lead voice, especially of the winds.  Also, since I sit in the geographic center of the orchestra, the principal oboist is in a unique position in terms of communication and influence, both with the conductor and the rest of the orchestra.

why is the oboe so awesome?

OK, there’s a subject for a whole book right there.  Suffice it to say that I like the sound, and what the instrument can do.  Frank Zappa said (I’m paraphrasing here) that most musicians play an instrument because they fall in love with the sound of it – it’s only later, over time, that they fall victim to its behavioral traditions.  I would say also that the oboe is known for its capacity for very subtle nuances of musical phrasing.

if you weren’t a musician, what profession would you choose?

I don’t think they have a name yet for what I want to be when I grow up. That said, I’ve always been interested in science, particularly the biosciences.

what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

Wow, another book.  But to boil it down: it’s the dialogue.  The interplay between audience and performer, between one performer and another, and every so often, between audience members (I once saw a fistfight break out in the middle of a concert I was playing in).

sorry, but that guy had it comin’.  any favorite works this season?

Several – which I guess means, no one favorite.  Debussy’s La Mer was a treat.  I’ve always loved the Prokfiev Fifth Symphony, which I hadn’t played in many years.  The Brahms Second Piano Concerto with Emmanuel Ax was a standout for me.  Higdon Percussion Concerto.  I’m also really looking forward to the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra in May.  And in general, I have to thank Carlos for introducing me to some really wonderful new (to me) works over the last few years.

you are also a native clevelander (woot, woot!)… um, anything in particular you miss about c-town?

I grew up in Cleveland Heights, just up the hill really from University Circle.  So I miss all that – the Art Museum, Severance Hall, Case Western, Coventry, Little Italy.  Oh yeah, and Stadium Mustard.  (I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Cleveland Indians)

ah yes, the magical land of coventry.  [sigh]  hey, the beaver knows squat about reeds – mind schooling me?

OK, the books have already been written.  But here’s a couple of facts: I make my own reeds; almost all professional oboists do.  It’s made from arundo donax, the same variety of bamboo that all reed players use – clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, bagpipes.  The difference for oboists is that our reeds are so small, and scraped so thin, that they don’t last.  Playing time is best measured not in days, weeks, or months like some of those other instruments, but in terms of playing hours.  For me, that would be somewhere between 1 and 20 hours of playing time.  So basically, I make reeds every day.

if i were to buy you a drink, what would you order?

Depends if I’m also eating (and what I’m eating) or not.  I like a good craft beer, with or without food – moving here to Beervana was a revelation.  And you can’t beat Oregon pinots – nor their Burgundian counterparts – as an accompaniment to good food.  And every so often I indulge in a single malt.

the tribe is only 1.5 games behind the top of the central division – i say break out the lagavulin!  btw, are you stoked by any non-classical music?

Yep.  But rather than give you a list of my faves or influences, I’ll just say progressive rock, jazz, fusion.  I’ve probably listened to more of these kinds of music in my life than to classical, which is fine, since I prefer my classical live.

last but certainly not least: what sets the oregon symphony apart from other orchestras?

Me, of course.  (Everybody knows that oboists are nothing if not egomaniacal)  Seriously, each of the individuals in the orchestra participate in the ‘corporate’ culture that is the OSO.  This culture has evolved over time to make it the well-oiled machine that it is today.

well-oiled indeed.  can’t wait to hear the machine again this weekend after a long spring break.  thanks marty!


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