“The most difficult aspect of the oboe is the process of making reeds. They’re so temperamental. The tip of the reed is thinner than a hair. You try to rely on it for your daily playing level; it’s like walking on thin ice.”~~~Liang Wang
Once played by shepherds in the Middle Ages, today’s oboe is a soprano-range, double-reed woodwind instrument with a length of 23 ” (62 cm.) The double reed is fashioned from cane which is grown on the east coast of Spain or the south of France, which is usually dried and aged for several years. The careful fashioning of the double reed is a key part of getting a fine musical sound from the instrument. The range of pressure between the softest and loudest sounds is small, so careful control of the pressure on the reed is necessary. Most oboists make their own reeds to get the reed to the exact degree of slenderness…the best say it takes years to learn to make them properly. A melodic instrument capable of gentle an expressive passages, its sound is one of the most easily recognized of all orchestral instruments. The sound has been described in many ways; dark, heavy, nasal and three dimensional, but the most common description is that it sounds dark and pastoral in slow music…free and almost humorous in faster music. The oboe plays the tuning note at the beginning of orchestra rehearsals and concerts.
Liang Wang joined the New York Philharmonic in September 2006 as Principal Oboe, a position to which he was appointed by Music Director Lorin Maazel. Born in Qing Dao, China, in 1980, he comes from a musical family. His mother was an amateur singer; his uncle was a professional oboist, and Mr. Wang began oboe studies with him at the age of seven. In 1993 he enrolled at the Beijing Central Conservatory, and two years later became a full-scholarship student at the Idyllwild Arts Academy in California. He said, “I was 15. I came by myself with a full scholarship to Idyllwild in 1995. I didn’t speak any English, and I had to learn fast. But the transition was rather easy…I had left my parents at age 13 to attend the Beijing Conservatory, I’ve lived alone ever since.” Like many Asian-born musicians, he has had to confront preconceptions about his ability to connect with Western classical music. At the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in 2003, studying with the Philadelphia Orchestra, a German conductor said he would be happy to show him how to play Brahms, since it was not in his culture. “You don’t have to be German to play Brahms. I was very hurt. People think that way? It never occurred to me.”
Mr. Wang’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Since graduating Curtis, he has been appointed Principal Oboe in many different orchestras, including the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the Grant Park Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, Shanghai Festival Orchestra, the San Francisco Contemporary ensemble and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (2005–06.) He has also been featured as a guest Principal Oboist in the Chicago Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. An active chamber musician, he appeared in such festivals as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Society and the Angel Fire Music Festival. He also performs as a soloist, having appeared with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra in Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto and in Santa Fe with Oboe Concertos of Marcello and Vivaldi. As a teacher, he gave master classes at Cincinnati Conservatory. He also held the position of oboe faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, and is currently on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music and New York University.
Orchestra auditions are grueling competitions to win coveted lifetime jobs, hundreds of musicians often vie for a position. Winning a first chair in a major orchestra is akin to winning teaching tenure at an Ivy League university. He received offers as principal oboist from both the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra simultaneously. He chose the New York Philharmonic and the players, most importantly the woodwind section, have embraced him. “People are just so supportive of me, and allow me to express myself as an artist. They really welcome people who are trying to make something musical.” Mr. Wang has an inner security about his abilities. “If you don’t have the goods, people aren’t going to put up with you. I enjoy being put on the spot. I like the pressure.” Here’s a video of this brilliant musician.