Marian Anderson

17 01 2011

Oboist Engelbert Brenner performed in recital with legendary contralto Marian Anderson.  Anderson’s voice was described as a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.  As an African-American artist, her role in the Civil Rights movement was monumental. Her legendary performance at the Lincoln Memorial (after having been denied the venue of D.A.R. Constitution Hall) will be forever part of American History.  Through her grace & talent, a blind American public was forced to see.

Anderson gave Brenner this autographed photo after one of their musical collaborations.  He prized it, as do I now that the photo has been left in my care.

Marian Anderson

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2011

Bernstein Symphony Recordings Resurface

19 12 2010

Over the years, I have bought hundreds of vinyl pressings and CDs of Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recordings.  As an oboist who grew up in the New York area, Harold Gomberg and Engelbert Brenner’s sound and playing styles were my earliest memories of the instruments, and are still the gold standard to me.

There is an exciting new release of symphony recordings on CD.  This is a SIXTY CD collection of nothing but symphonies.  Here is a list of the contents:

  • Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9 (Complete)
  • Berlioz: Symphony Fantastique
  • Bernstein: Symphonies 1-3 (Complete)
  • Bizet: Symphony in C
  • Blitzstein: The Airborne Symphony
  • Brahms: Symphonies 1-4 (Complete)
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
  • Copland: Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, 3
  • Dvorak: Symphonies 7, 8, and 9
  • Franck: Symphony in D Minor
  • Goldmark: Rustic Wedding Symphony
  • Harris: Symphony No.3
  • Haydn: Symphonies 82-88; 93-104
  • Hindemith: Symphony in E-Flat
  • Ives: Symphonies 2 and 3
  • Liszt: Faust Symphony
  • Mahler: Symphonies 1-9 (Complete)
  • Mendelssohn: Symphonies 3, 4, and 5
  • Mozart: Symphonies 35, 36, 39, 40, and 41
  • Nielsen: Symphonies 2, 3, 4, and 5
  • Prokofiev: Symphonies 1 and 5
  • St. Saens: Symphony No. 3
  • Schubert: Symphonies 5, 8, and 9
  • Schumann: Symphonies 1-4 (Complete)
  • Schuman: Symphonies 3, 5, and 8
  • Shapero: Symphony for Classical Orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
  • Shostakovich: Symphonies 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 14
  • Sibelius: Symphonies 1-7 (Complete)
  • Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-6 (Complete)
  • Thompson: Symphony No. 2
  • Vaughan-Williams: Symphony No. 4

Bernstein, Gomberg and Brenner are all now gone, but in this age of vanishing classical music ensembles and recordings, it’s heartening to see this release.  Lenny was largely responsible for a generation’s awareness of a symphony orchestra, and I’m glad to see that people can still experience those magical recordings today.

This set is available for around $100 – that’s pretty amazing when you consider its contents!

toscanini rarities

12 05 2010

From 1926 to 1936, Arturo Toscanini was at the helm of the New York Philharmonic.  In 1931, Englebert Brenner became the 2nd oboist of that orchestra.  Toscanini was fiery and feared, yet revered as the best conductor, and many say he has never had an equal.

During a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, a photographer sneaked on to Carnegie Hall’s stage and took some photos while hiding behind the bass drum.  Had Toscanini known of this, the camera would surely have been smashed on the spot.  A few of these (perhaps never before seen) photos came into Brenner’s possession.  They were kept hidden away in his studio, and he treated them as if they were contraband.  He showed them to me on occasion, but mentioned each time that had Toscanini known these photos existed…

I proudly own many of Engelbert Brenner’s musical belongings.  While going through some boxes the other day, I found that mystical envelope.  I knew what was inside – the rare Toscanini photos!  Here are 4 of them.  You can see the emotion – the motion – the intensity.  Perhaps for the first time for the world to see – Arturo Toscanini rehearsing the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall, sometime between 1931 & 1936.


Wolfgang & Rémy

24 01 2010

This week, the 254th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occurs. I recently played on an all-Mozart concert.  We performed some choral works, the well-known Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a piano concerto.  Not required to be on stage for the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I was able to sit, watch and listen from the wings.  Although this piece is extremely familiar, I found myself listening intently to the work, analyzing the harmonic progressions, and revisiting the occasional (and brilliant) asymmetry.  What a remarkable piece.  What a remarkable composer.

Grapes grow on vines.  Some of the best grapes are nurtured and grown for wine production.  There are bad wines, there are good wines, and there are excellent wines.  They change and age with time.  A nice table wine can be found on any table in Italy to accompany any dinner.  It is simply “right” for its purpose.  A fine wine… refined further becomes cognac.  It becomes more intense, multidimensional and therefore takes on a different “purpose”.  There are bad cognacs, good cognacs, and the precious few that are extraordinary.

Sound is everywhere.  Organized sound can be categorized as music.  There is bad music, there is good music, and there is great music.  Then there is the music of Mozart… refined further.  It does not change or improve with age.  It was born of brilliance, and remains so for the ages.  We change in the way we hear, analyze, ponder and enjoy Mozart’s music.

No one can define your favorite wine but you.  No one can establish a best cognac for you to enjoy but you.  This week, I hope to enjoy Mozart and Rémy Martin.

Happy Birthday, Herr Mozart.

musical mystery solved

27 06 2009

A while ago, I blogged about two pieces of memorabilia I own; a Hank Aaron autographed baseball, and a baton that was used by Arturo ToscaniniBaton - closeupThe baseball was bought in a card shop while I was on a concert tour of the South – no big mystery there.  The baton, however, was left to me by my musical mentor, Engelbert Brenner.  Brenner played 2nd oboe in the NYPO during Toscanini’s reign.  This rare piece of classical music history has a hand written date on the shaft: November 24th, 1932.

Recently, the New York Philharmonic has made an extensive, searchable database available to the public on their web site.  I have long wondered what pieces Maestro Toscanini conducted with MY baton.  I now know!

Bruckner Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major


Viotti Concerto No. 22 in A minor for Violin and Orchestra
Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b

Bruckner 4 under Toscanini…. WOW!


caution:new york philharmonic grandchildren at play

6 04 2009
Ronald Roseman

Ronald Roseman

I played an out-of-town gig this past weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The other oboist that was hired to play was from the Norfolk area – Kevin Piccini.  Kevin is a great oboist, and a very nice guy.  I didn’t have to hear more than a few notes of his warmup to know that we are from the same ‘school’ of oboe playing & philosophy.   He has a big, rich sound, and controls it masterfully.  We discovered that we are both ‘grandchildren’ of the New York Philharmonic’s legendary oboe section under

Engelbert Brenner

Engelbert Brenner

Bernstein.  I was a pupil of Engelbert Brenner, and he of Ronald Roseman.  Kevin speaks of his teacher with the same reverence I use to describe my mentor.  When not playing together, we were trading stories & comparing notes.  A 3 hour rehearsal flew by at rocket speed.  The performance was great, and the ‘oboe-ing’ was good & really fun!

Now the kicker – Kevin turns to me right before the lone rehearsal starts and says, “You’re Oboerista, aren’t you.”  I’m humbled and honored that a great oboist discovered and reads this blog.

sliced wrong – or maybe right finally

16 02 2009

baloneyI play on a Marigaux oboe.  It is not what most American oboists prefer, but I discovered them back in the mid 1980s, and now play on my second of these wonderful instruments.  Oboes haven’t changed much in about 100 years.  The changes to the instrument’s slow evolution have mostly been refinements to the bore, tone holes or the addition of new keys to help facilitate specific note-to-note progressions.

The first real shake-up to the design of the modern oboe has been pioneered by Marigaux.  They have completely re-thought & reingineered the disassembly points to their M2 model.  Instead of the instrument coming

Marigaux M2
Marigaux M2

apart between the top & bottom hand keys, the majority of the oboe has been redesigned to be a solid, continuous piece of wood.  Gone are the 3 critical linkage points which control the D trill, the Bb controls & the often-persnickety bridge mechanism of the F# – G# linkage.  Oboists often peek at the linkage between top & bottom joints to ensure the alignment is true.  An oboe that has twisted a tiny bit becomes a lesser instrument for the moment, and smooth passages can be distorted to clumsy messes.

The description of the new M2 model is this:

  • Head-joints can be easily changed to suit individual needs so that tuning, colour, depth and fluidity of sound are all adjustable
  • In extreme climatic conditions a phenol-resin head-joint can be used in place of a wooden one to avoid unnecessary cracks
  • The instrument is assembled by aligning the octave key pillar with the plate on the main body of the oboe
  • Ergonomically improved Bb, B and Eb keys
  • Improved positioning of G and G sharp keys, thanks to the removal of the middle joint ring
  • Long F key is height-adjustable
  • New positioning of the half-hole gives better tuning on D’s and Db’s and improved performance on top octave D’s to Eb’s

I love my “old school” Marigaux, and can’t wait to try an M2 model.  My reeds have drawn stares from fellow oboists for years – imagine the glares this would draw!

Marigaux M2 in its special case
Marigaux M2 in its special case

Well, I could dream, couldn’t I?