In 1974, I had the great fortune to meet Engelbert Brenner, the recently retired oboist & English hornist of the New York Philharmonic. He became my teacher & friend. More than 20 years after his death, I still find inspiration from his words and music.
Mr. Brenner was an oboist and English horn player in the New York Philharmonic for 42 years – from Toscanini to Boulez. Brenner moved to New York City in 1908, and attended the High School for the Performing Arts. He played saxophone with the Keats Boy’s Band, where he was handed an oboe to try. He played on ocean liners and show orchestras, even playing the grand opening of New York’s famed Roxy Theater.
Brenner returned to Vienna to study oboe. His parents, sensing the direction of the political climate of the German/Austrian governments, called Engelbert back to the States, claiming his mother was on her death bed. It was, in fact, a trick to get him back home – Brenner was half Jewish, and would have perhaps not “weathered the storm” in Europe. (his mother was apparently on the pier, waving enthusiastically to welcome her son back to NYC safely).
While on tour in New York, the Cleveland Orchestra performed both the Franck and La Mer on the same concert. Someone heard Brenner’s playing, found him backstage, and suggested he take a train down to Philadelphia the next day. Maestro Toscanini would be interested in hearing him play. Brenner played for Toscanini in a hotel room, and was offered a contract with the New York Philharmonic.
Despite auditioning on English horn, Mr. Brenner played 2nd oboe for many years – Michel Nazzi stayed as the orchestra’s E.H. player until the late 50s (or early 60s). He became the orchestra’s permanent E.H. player after Mr. Nazzi retired. During this period, the NYPO recorded continuously. Nearly all of the Bernstein NYPO recordings have Brenner on the English horn.
Engelbert Brenner retired from the NYPO in 1972. He continued to play in semi-professional ensembles in New Jersey until his death in 1986.
To me, Engelbert Brenner was an oboe teacher, a role model, and a friend. With a musical career that stretched over more than 50 years, perhaps many of you have fond memories or stories about Mr. Brenner.