Jan Dismas Zelenka

Gosh I love Zelenka.

Tonight I went over to Pikacello and Hoshikaji’s house for dinner. During the course of the evening the conversation turned to music. I am an occasional oboe player, while Pikacello is a professional cellist and Hoshikaji is a violinist. I happened to mention one Jan Dismas Zelenka, my favorite baroque composer, and before I knew it, I was fetching my oboe so that we could sight-read his third trio sonata. AND GOSH IT WAS FUN.

Back in college, I played the first trio sonata (two oboes, bassoon, and continuo). Man, that was an amazing experience. There’s this stretch in the second movement in the first oboe part where you can’t breathe for like a minute. It’s so good. I seriously loved playing for stuff like that. (Someday I will regale you all with my tale of Pasculli cadenzas, but that day is not today.)

They’re all amazing pieces. This is a superb recording, headed by the great Heinz Holliger, or you can listen to them here on YouTube.

Légère Oboe Reeds

I am super-excited about this! As you may or may not know, I was an oboe player in my previous life. One of my biggest issues was reeds. I wasn’t very good at making them, and moreover I hating doing it. (It was kind of a chicken-and-egg sort of situation, I guess.) Plastic reeds used to be total crap back in the 90s—I remember trying a couple out when I first started playing. I think they were supposed to be better for beginners, since we wouldn’t accidentally chip them on our teeth or whatever. Sounded like hell, though.

I did some looking around when I was starting to play again. I saw that Légère Reeds had developed a bassoon reed, and they were in the development phase for oboe reeds! Their bassoon reeds say they can last 12–14 months! Yeah, they’re probably going to be wicked pricey (looking at their bassoon reed prices, the oboe ones will probably go higher). But if they do last a year, I think it’s worth it. Think about all the hardware you have to buy: cane, splitters, gougers, shapers, staples, thread, knives, stones. Even if you buy already shaped cane, you’re still looking at a lot of money, considering how long reeds last and how much your time making them is worth.

The big question for me is whether the scrape fits with how I’ve learned. They say they’re a European Scrape. If I look at my pedagogic ancestry, I’m (unsurprisingly) from a San Francisco line—my teachers were Tom Nugent and Bill Banovetz (note: that is a sad link), who were in turn students of Marc Lifschey, who studied with the legendary Marcel Tabuteau, the father of American oboe playing. Tabuteau’s students—and there were many—all developed different scrapes. For instance, I know the John Mack school is pretty different than what I learned. Perhaps if the European Scrape is wildly successful, they might branch out into an American Scrape? East Coast / Midwest / West Coast Scrapes? The possibilities are endful!

Will the Légère reed work for me? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out! They hope to be selling them by the end of the year!

For more, check out the Légère Reeds European Scrape Tour on YouTube! You can hear in the London video an extended example of how the reed sounds, with the first movement of Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid—ah, the memories! (And dig that Pasculli in the Rome video. Gosh Pasculli is fun to play.)