Principal Oboe Teachers

João Ramalho. Paraná School of Music and Fine Arts (EMBAP), Curitiba, Brazil, 1976-1978. Alex Klein's first oboe - a Puchner instrument chosen at the factory by Ingo Goritzky - arrived only in July of 1976. The first 5 months of oboe lessons were centered on playing solely on the reed. Exercises in rhythm and different sonorities were prescribed by Prof João Ramalho for daily practice at home, and only on Fridays, early afternoon during lessons was there an opportunity to play on an oboe, his teacher's. Klein recalls this period as one of musical discovery disassociated from oboe playing. João Ramalho's most memorable expressions: "try this", "play this as if you have lost your, wait, you haven't had a girlfriend yet, have you?" (Klein was 10 years old). Most importantly, a seed was planted with the example of a teacher sharing his oboe with a student who didn't have one. This example was to be a lifelong guide for flexibility and outreach. Early oboe method was Sellner. Ramalho was a gentle teacher, encouraging and focusing on the beauty of music, down-to-earth with the realities of oboe playing. When sought to be Klein's first oboe teacher he advised Klein's parents to not buy a "teco-teco oboe" (referring to a simple single-prop small airplane) but order a professional oboe right away, saying that "the oboe is hard enough as it is". The Puchner oboe was ordered at great expense to Klein's parents and arrived 18 months later. Following Ramalho's retirement Klein studied with professors from the Brazilian Symphony who visited Curitiba regularly: Principal Oboe Harold Emert and English hornist Tsunemichi Nagamine.

Salvador Masano, private lessons, São Paulo, Brazil, 1977-1979. In spite of all the musical benefits and convenience of a local teacher, the reality at hand was that Ramalho had been mostly self-taught and had a limited knowledge of the advanced oboe repertory and etudes. To fill this gap, as of age 12, every two weeks on Fridays at midnight Alex Klein entered a bus for a 6-hour overnight ride to São Paulo, at first accompanied by his mother and later by himself, to study with Salvador Masano, a recognized and praised oboist in Brazil's largest metropolis. With Salvador Masano came a more demanding repertory, starting with Franz Krommer's 1st Oboe Concerto (later recorded for Cedille Records using a copy of Masano's oboe part which was used during those very same early lessons) as well as the etude book by Luft. 

Walter Bianchi, private lessons, São Paulo, Brazil, 1981-1984. Alex Klein was admitted to Paulist State University (UNESP). Since there was no oboe major at that time, Klein enrolled in a Composition and Conducting major and took private oboe lessons with Walter Bianchi, arguably the greatest oboist in Brazil during his lifetime. At a young age Bianchi was Principal Oboe in the São Paulo Opera and absorbed musicianship from the myriads of great soloists and conductors which regularly visited the "Theatro Municipal", including Horszowsky and Stravinsky. Then, in the mid-1940s a US Army Orchestra came to town, and its oboist's sound amazed Bianchi. That oboist was Robert Bloom, who then invited Bianchi to come study with his teacher in Philadelphia, Marcel Tabuteau. Bianchi went to Philadelphia for one year, when this photo was taken at the steps of the Curtis Institute (right to left: Walter Bianchi, Marcel Tabuteau, John Mack, Laila Storch, Lawrence Thorstenberg and Louis Rosenblatt).

Bianchi returned to Brazil to a fabulous career as a soloist and orchestral player, joining what was then the country's best orchestra, the Porto Alegre Symphony under Music Director Pablo Kómlos. Klein's parents' first date was a concert by this orchestra and conductor (and arguably with Bianchi as solo oboe) at the São Pedro Theater to hear a Beethoven Symphony. Alex Klein visited his native Porto Alegre and attempted to hear Bianchi perform the Concertino by Brenno Blauth, but failed to gain access to the hall, packed to the limit with fans of Bianchi and the orchestra. Bianchi followed an invitation by Eleazar de Carvalho to join him at the São Paulo State Symphony in the early 1980s, which is where Klein then began studying with him. Bianchi refused to charge money for lessons, saying that he once had a talented student who could not afford lessons and since then he chose to never again ask money for them (that oboist turned out to be Isaac Karabitchevsky who went on to be a major conductor). Bianchi never failed to mention Tabuteau in his lessons, using his numbering system profusely, then raising his arms to the ceiling and exclaiming "Ah, Tabuteau!". For Bianchi, music needed to have constant flow in expression. Phrases, motives, every measure needed to demonstrate flow. It was during this time that Klein first learned the Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss, and then performed it for the first time with the Porto Alegre Symphony led by Eleazar de Carvalho. With Bianchi, Klein learned the methodology of music, to have an understanding of the relationship between notes, what made them different and their purpose within a musical phrase. In addition, the need of the musician to be constantly on alert, armed with creativity and eagerness of discovery, to be sensitive for musical opportunities contained within a musical phrase.

James Caldwell, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, 1984-1989(1991). In search for further study and opportunities, Klein met oboist Bill Bennett at the Campos do Jordão Music Festival in Brazil in 1982, and from him received recommendations of teachers in the US whom Klein could apply to study with: Alan Vogel in Los Angeles, a student of Lothar Koch; Richard Killmer at Eastman; James Caldwell at the Oberlin Conservatory, who also taught baroque oboe; and John de Lancie at Curtis (who delayed a decision because the Curtis Orchestra went on tour and finally Klein withdrew the application to concentrate on Oberlin). Of all these schools, the only one who offered acceptance and a scholarship was Oberlin and James Caldwell. Given the financial need and no other option, Klein went to Oberlin without knowing anything about James Caldwell other than the encouraging words of National Symphony Principal Oboist Rudolf Vrbsky who, while on tour in São Paulo, raved about Caldwell as a performer and teacher. James Caldwell turned out to be the single greatest influence in Klein's oboe performance, teaching and musical approach. Caldwell's patient approach and understanding of Klein's musical and personal life searches proved fundamental for a well grounded and progressive development. At this time Klein switched from Puchner to Lorée oboes, remaining with the latter to this day. Careful studies of the Barret Oboe Method and the works of Gustave Vogt and Stanislas Verroust ensued. Caldwel was patient, but not less persistent. Klein recalls spending three lessons (three weeks) on the first few lines of the Strauss Oboe Concerto as Caldwell attempt to enlighten him about the delicate interaction between motives hidden within the 16ths notes. It was never good enough, never profound enough, but the seed was planted. A few years later, when Klein performed the Strauss Concerto for the finals of the Geneva Competition, for which he earned the First-Prize, the reviewer of the Tribune de Genève mentioned the judges' positive perception of Klein's moving nuances in Strauss' otherwise repetitive motives - precisely the point Caldwell had insisted on. Klein later recorded the Strauss Concerto with the Chicago Symphony and Barenboim, earning a Grammy Award.

Richard Woodhams, Curtis Institute of Music, 1986-1987. After completing a Bachelor of Music at Oberlin in May, 1986, Klein was admitted to the Artist Diploma at the Curtis Institute, to study with Richard Woodhams. The kind of pedagogical approach favored by Woodhams, however, proved detrimental and unhealthy for Klein's oboe playing and life, leading to a serious illness. Almost immediately after beginning his studies in Philadelphia, Klein contacted the Admissions Office at Oberlin seeking to transfer back and continue studying with Caldwell, finishing his Artist Diploma in 1989. Klein was then asked by Caldwell to remain at Oberlin as a lecturer/assistant, which Klein did until 1991.

Oboe Players and Teachers of Influence

The significant impact of primary teachers is augmented by the presence and work of others who cultivate similar parameters, explain subjects in a different way, and through their performance and example set Alex Klein on a stronger career path.

Richard Killmer, Aspen Music Festival, 1985, 1986, 1988. Klein took only a few private lessons with Richard Killmer, but his Studio Classes and gripping playing philosophy made a permanent mark on Klein's musical perception and outlook. Killmer studied with Robert Bloom, he who met Bianchi in São Paulo and led to Klein's first studies in the Tabuteau school. Killmer looks at the often negative and complex process of reed making with affection and a clear mind, always looking at the beauty of every process, musical or not. 

Kathy Greenbank, Aspen Music Festival, 1985, 1986. Having just won her position as Principal Oboist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra - a post vacated by Richard Killmer who went to the Eastman School, Kathy Greenbank went from being a student at Aspen to joining the faculty on the following year. Greenbank was instrumental in Klein's development as an oboist due to her honesty and down-to-earth approach. Being young at that time and yet unexperienced in teaching, Greenbank relied on a higher knowledge: vision, perception and reality. Her influence could not have been more important if she had been teaching for several decades.

John Ferrillo, Aspen Music Festival, 1988. Here was another young performer with recent accolades in major orchestral auditions, having joined the Met Orchestra as co-Principal Oboe, and as such, demonstrating an appeal towards action and ambition prior to the now extensive experience as one of the USA's greatest oboists as Principal in the Boston Symphony. 1988 was a key year for Klein, particularly the Summer months just preceding the Geneva Competition coming up in early September. In fact, Klein went to Geneva almost immediately after Aspen. The high altitude at Aspen is notorious for its disastrous effects on oboists' reeds. Under that scenario there was urgency to meet the demands of the upcoming Geneva Competition, the orchestral assignments at Aspen, the winning performance for the Aspen Concerto Competition and of course the lessons with Ferrillo, which left a memorable impression and influence on Klein for their focus on objectives in spite of mid-level difficulties or deficiencies. This philosophy proved fundamental for the mind set necessary to confront the challenges of the competition. 

Bert Lucarelli. As in the case of Killmer, Greenbank and Ferrillo, Klein's learning from Bert Lucarelli was limited to a few private lessons and much mentorship. Klein recalls in shock having observed Lucarelli's performance at Carnegie Hall for the 100th Anniversary of the Modern Oboe, in 1986. There was a 5-hour long dress rehearsal all afternoon, followed by a 3-hour long concert ending with the Strauss Oboe Concerto and comprising works with orchestra, or piano, of significant challenge and endurance. The oboist's eternal preoccupation with reeds and stamina seemed to not exist in Lucarelli's playing. Also exemplary was Lucarelli's entrepreneurship, creating the Lucarelli International Oboe Competition - of which Klein was First-Prize Winner in its first edition - handling a solo and recitalist career in a market where such career did not exist, and maintaining himself true to musical values not always shared by the abundance of orchestrally-oriented oboists in the USA. Lucarelli was always an example of graceful opposition, of global wisdom and local action, of standing up for one's values and pleasures in music.

Musicians of Influence

Klein and Daniel Barenboim performing  Mozart's Symphony Concertante at Carnegie Hall, November, 2005.

Daniel Barenboim, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1995-2004. It is difficult to measure the extent to which Daniel Barenboim exerted influence in Klein's musical thought and trajectory. The decade as Principal Oboe with the Chicago Symphony also involved chamber music, listening to auditions, discussing repertory, confronting challenges, touring, dealing with soloists, and seeing the non-musical side of Barenboim, the loss of his father, and as he created the East-West Divan Orchestra seeking to provide a bridge between warring factions in the Middle East. And also the unenviable task of confronting Klein's departure due to the onset of Focal Dystonia. Barenboim's example and values came to be of great enlightenment as Klein launched the FEMUSC festival in Brazil, on how music can be a significant, central factor in bringing together communities and evolving society. Barenboim was  not interested in pacifists who don't have a side, but instead in people who have a strong opinion but are willing to lay it aside in order to play music together. As such, music becomes the great unifier without anyone having to change sides or undermine their well-grounded arguments. Peace, it seems, would not be a result of conquest, but respect for other's opinions, not differently than how a chamber music group achieves a successful performance even though each member comes from a different musical background.

José Penalva, composer. During Klein's musical upbringing in Curitiba, Brazil, the influence of José Penalva in the community was admired and revered. Besides being a prolific composer, Penalva was conductor of the Pro-Musica Choir where Klein sang as a teenager. At 16, Penalva invited him to conduct the group as his assistant. Penalva was acting as a mentor to Klein, creating situations where Klein could confront and learn from leadership decisions. These were hard but necessary lessons.

Heinz Holliger, oboist. Holliger was the first oboist Klein revered. His recordings of Vivaldi Concertos, Telemann Fantasies and the Concertos by Molique and Moscheles were of standing influence, causing Klein to eventually record them himself, as reverence to Holliger's impressive accomplishments and performance. 

Klein and Holliger having coffee at the Renaissance Hotel in São Paulo.

Henry Schuman was indirectly one of the great influences in Alex Klein's oboe upbringing. Schuman came to Brazil to teach at the Campos do Jordão Winter Festival and quickly became an icon for oboists. On one particular performance of note, Klein recalls conductor Eleazar de Carvalho inviting Henry Schuman to be a guest principal oboe with the São Paulo State Symphony - OSESP on the occasion when Sydney Harth soloed the Brahms Violin Concerto with the orchestra. That performance was remarkable and a landmark. Schuman's influence was not limited to Klein and oboists in Brazil. Conductors, teachers and colleagues revered him for his oboe playing and artistry. Schuman's performances were regularly hailed by critics for his beautiful sound, control and musicality. His embracing smile and exuberant personality were a gift to anyone who approached him.

Distant Lights

For musicians, used to live simultaneously in the present, future and several levels of past, the influence of certain individuals transcends calendars and epochs, being relived today as if their life experiences were contiguous with ours.

Marcel Tabuteau, oboist. Perhaps every US-trained oboist has a slightly different take on the influence of Marcel Tabuteau in their lives and careers, with some even being insistently dogmatic about the specific - and limited - way Tabuteau must be remembered. For Klein, Marcel Tabuteau was a scientist, given a task by Stokowski to find a better sonority for the oboe and engaging in trials to change the way a reed is made and even experimenting, with the aid of Robert De Gourdon, on how oboes were made. On the same level, Tabuteau came from France to find an American orchestral scene lacking in certain disciplines within oboe playing. As best he could, with the training he had at the Paris Conservatory with Georges Gillet, Tabuteau sought to create a method of playing which would be understood and fitting the needs he saw ahead of him. Much is talked about, admired and criticized about Tabuteau, the limitations of his playing, and the results he obtained, much of it failing to see the world from his point of view and thus give him proper credit and justice for the positive revolution he created. While still living in Brazil, Klein studied with one of Tabuteau's pupils, Walter Bianchi, and later with two second generation students, James Caldwell and Richard Woodhams, who both studied with John De Lancie. Klein also took private lessons with other direct Tabuteau students John De Lancie (at Aspen), Robert Bloom and John Mack. To Tabuteau's credit, each of his students developed an individual, unique vision for oboe playing, while sharing in common the same care for details, evenness and refinement which are seen as a historic stamp of approval of Tabuteau. 

Ludwig van Beethoven, composer. It is not hard to guess why a musician would admire Beethoven for his compositions and the lasting influence he has bestowed on humanity, perhaps as the world's most famous composer, anywhere. Klein's admiration for Beethoven comes from another angle. Beethoven was disabled. Deaf. He endured the confusion, depression, perhaps even suicidal thoughts that any person who acquires a significant disability would experience. Like Beethoven, Klein's disability - Musician's Focal Dystonia - struck at the center of his most important task in their lives, one that gave both of them identity and self-esteem. Klein's loss of control in two fingers of his left hand essentially nullified his oboe career leading to depart from the Chicago Symphony after a few years attempting to remediate the situation. Likewise, Beethoven's musical output ground to a halt after years attempting to use whatever new invention came his way which would help him hear better and feel the musical vibrations. Yet, through all this, Beethoven not only persevered, but eventually thrived. Beethoven's example to peoples with disabilities teaches us that the best is yet to come. In fact, after years of emotional pain and self-abandonment, and after being discarded as yesterday's news, Beethoven surprised the world with his 9th Symphony speaking of brotherly love, of a rejection to discord and of finding common ground in humanity's higher aspirations. It is with this logic that Klein continues to explore ways of bridging the realities of Focal Dystonia to a future when it will not be an issue, just as in Beethoven's 9th his deafness failed to stop him.