<< -- 2 -- Bill Newman AN IDEAL LIFESTYLE
How did she come to choose the oboe as her instrument? 'Quite by accident. I was really no good as a pianist, and had no voice. Two people -- both oboists -- had left the school orchestra and things were in a pickle. Although they had no player there, they realized I was in the choir and had a good ear. Downe House was a rather posh school, near Newbury. A school orchestra was rather unusual in those days, and they had a good violinist called Marjorie Gunn. Anyway, they said: "Have a go". They got me a wretched oboe, and I had some lessons from a nice amateur player.'
'I worked very hard, and I suppose had some talent.' Making note of my slight grimace ... 'Oh, the instrument they bought for me probably came from a military band. Made of bakelite -- a terrible thing. But I got another one when I came up to the Royal College. I obtained a scholarship, and I was lucky there because Sir Hugh Allen, then their Principal, awarded it to me on potential. I had only been learning for about six months. He said: "If you do what I think you will, I will renew it for three years". I didn't make full use of that scholarship, as I got into the profession rather soon.'
'At the time, there was a shortage of good oboe players. There was Leon, of course, but others were more old-fashioned. I remember Glyndebourne, where Fritz Busch had mainly the LSO, but he didn't like the sound of their oboist who had rather an acid tone. Busch then decided to audition, and that is how I obtained the job. Yes, I had a natural fluency and made a good sound at the time. There was not a lot of running about mastering technique. It was rather late, and I was nearly eighteen. Anyway, it was just luck and I enjoyed it!'
When did the first break come? 'I gave John an audition from the College. I had only been playing for a year and a half, but had hardly got going at all. After Glyndebourne had set me off on higher things, I then joined the LSO. First of all, as Second Oboe. It was very good then, and still is. I did the odd concerto with John, but the main solo work came much later.' Concertos from an earlier period? 'Yes -- in the 19th century they are thin on the ground, but not the 20th. The Vaughan Williams was really written for Leon, and he became stuck over it. The first two movements are typical of early RVW but Leon pushed him for a third, so he used a discarded scherzo movement intended originally for one of his symphonies. That, by far, is the best music in the concerto. So, it was finished for Leon. The work is really divided over two periods, but lovely all the same.' I had become very fond of the Barbirolli husband and wife recording when I did a studio 'refurbishment' in the 1960s for HMV's Music of the 20s LP series (re-coupling it with Dives and Lazarus and Rubbra Symphony 5). 'Rubbra wrote a Sonata for Oboe and Piano for me, but it is seldom played nowadays -- except by Nicholas Daniel, occasionally.'
'Nick is very good, actually. He digs around and performs a lot of music from that period.' There is much neglect of music written in the 40s, 50s and 60s, yet music today has to be performed literally before the ink is dry on the paper. 'Yes, and that is all wrong. A lot of it is rubbish, and audiences don't often like it. I find much of it unattractive, although I really do try by going to hear concerts containing modern works. I often think it must be me, but not entirely. Unless it has a melody, it's not music, and generally you cannot find one. Birtwistle, I find hideous, but one chap who writes 17th century wise -- Tavener -- now that is really quite beautiful. He goes back in years and does his job well. But it is certainly not original. Whether it has other qualities of its own, I am not so sure.'
In your earlier days, there was more interest shown in the performance of chamber music. 'There was more activity in Music Clubs, and if you were near the top of your own performing lists you were always more busy than you could be. That doesn't happen now. No one can afford to hire pianos, for one thing. My doctor has an oboe playing daughter, and he played me a tape. She is a very good player.'
'They don't need a piano, which cuts out the additional costs for tuning. Many of them have gone to the wall because of this, and if you engage a quartet you can't afford to make the fee too minimal.' The same financial problems have hit musical education in schools. 'And cuts by the Arts Council. They would give you a flat rate for performing in Scotland at Glasgow and Edinburgh -- and you usually did both -- or out in the sticks for audiences of about six people. But it was marvellous. They ran things well, and it was a nice job. You never became rich from it, but 20 concerts at so much? ... mmm. This lasted through to the late 70s and early 80s, but I enjoyed it much earlier in the 1930s, until I stopped playing. Then I went on to America.'
Going back again to that earlier period, you were paving your career with orchestras and threading yourself into the profession gradually. John was then married to someone else. 'Yes, it only lasted a year -- a singer by the name of Marjorie Parry. Then, he gave me an audition, and I couldn't read his name. I thought it was Barkworth. I was second oboist in a touring opera company he was conducting. We didn't become acquainted then as he was already married, but he gave me another audition, and I then became first oboist in the Scottish Orchestra.'
'After that, we quickly began to know each other. When he brought me in, there were a few not so good players, but he had this gift of suddenly making them sound far better.' Making them play finer than they ever knew how. 'He had that quality. You could give him bad players, and he would still transform them. He rarely lost his temper, and everybody always wanted to play for him. He was liked, and they loved him! He was fond of them -- like a family -- and he knew them and shared their troubles. Musicians making Music -- together!'
Copyright © 26 December 2004
Bill Newman, Edgware UK