harold gomberg revisited

17 03 2007

Engelbert Brenner and Harold GombergFor over 30 years (1943 to 1977), Harold Gomberg sat in the principal oboe chair of the New York Philharmonic. For my generation of oboists, he was the standard. A New York Times article written in 1977 stated;

“Part of the Gomberg legend is in his instrumental expertise. He can produce a fatter tone than any of his colleagues, or a thinner one when he wants to; or he can make his oboe sound like an English horn, a clarinet, a saxophone. His breath control indicates that he was born with a bellows in his chest rather than lungs. His rhythm is infallible, he never makes a false entry, he has the entire repertory at his disposal.

That is part of the Gomberg legend. The other is his reputation as a musician who eats conductors for breakfast. “Who, me?” says the stocky Gomberg demurely, looking innocent. Never Harold Gomberg. Except from the green rooms of concert halls throughout the world come stories of the incorrigible Mr. Gomberg, who has never hesitated to tell man or devil what he thinks. He has told conductors to pack it in. “I can’t play it this way!” And he won’t. To one conductor who tried to correct him: “If you think you can play it better play it yourself!” To another, who has a reputation as a cold fish, Gomberg said good-bye at the end of the season with a parting injunction: “I hope you meet Venus during the summer.” Conductors put up with this. They have to. There are many conductors, but there is only one Harold Gomberg.”

It was Gomberg’s artistry, along with his colleague Engelbert Brenner that formulated my idea of what an oboe was and how it should sound.

Mr. Gomberg was also a painter, and his works were exhibited publicly for over 30 years. After he retired from the orchestra, the Gombergs moved to Italy, where he died in 1985. He sent a hand-painted card to Mr. Brenner from Italy one year – It is now one of my rare treasures. Enjoy!


Gomberg Art