A  Conversation  with  Bruce  Duffie

Being a double-reed player is something very special, and since my first orchestral instrument was the bassoon, I took my place in that select group.  However humble my own accomplishments there, I always have a special spot in my heart for those who not only perform, but whittle incessantly on reeds and talk constantly about different types of cane or new ways of scraping.  Trust me, it's an art unto itself.  Just ask any double-reed player!  And there are quite a few of us around - enough to hold a large scale conference each year at interesting points around the globe.

In 1997, the last few days of June was the time, and Northwestern University in Evanston (my home town!) was the place for the 26th International Double Reed Society (IDRS) Conference.  Among the legends and dignitaries who participated was Ingo Goritzki, the famous and well-recorded oboist.  [A brief biography appears at the end of this interview.]  Besides attending recitals and lectures, and enjoying the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival, Goritzki's own program on Thursday, included two works by Bach (with David Shrader, harpsichord), and Piri for Solo Oboe by Isang Yun. "I think that works better," he said, "than Bach and some Romantic music."   The performance was followed by a discussion of his newly released edition of the Mozart Oboe Concerto.

It was a great pleasure to add Goritzki to my list of guests.  He made time for me on Friday and we met at his hotel.  His English, though quite good, often utilized German-style structure, so I have straightened out the phrases without changing any of his meanings.

As we were setting up to record the chat, he laughed at my remark about the cassette machine being a high-tech gizmo...

Bruce Duffie:  Is the oboe a high-tech gizmo?

Ingo Goritzky:  Sometimes if a little thing is not okay on the instrument, you can have biggest difficulty, with the keys, for example.

BD:  [Chuckles]  So you have to be a mechanic?

IG:  [Thinks for a moment]  Yeah, I think so.  You must be able to help yourself in that situation.  Sometimes it's not possible.  If it's too bad, you need a professional who really knows how to repair it.

BD:  You also have to be a mechanic for the reed.

IG:  Of course.  [Chuckles]  And that I have to know.  Nobody can help me in that case.

BD:  Do you enjoy making reeds and having that much control over the sound?

IG:  I personally like it, yes.  You know, I used to be a flutist, in my youth.  For twenty years I was a flute player, and then I had a teacher who was not totally convinced by my physical situation for the embouchure.  In fact, he told me, "You have thin lips which are better for oboe playing."  This didn't make me feel good, you know, and I was faced with the situation of having to stop with music or to begin a new instrument.  I had begun the flute when I was twelve, and had been playing for twenty years when I began to play oboe.  That was the reason I changed - I learned I was not made for playing the flute.  And the reed has such a big influence on the sound an oboist makes, it was fascinating for me.  I think that it is an advantage to be able to make your sound yourself.

BD:  Do you use a different reed for different eras of music - Baroque, Romantic, contemporary?

IG:  Of course.  It's necessary to do that.  In Baroque music I do not use only another reed, I use sometimes another instrument.  Two years ago I began to play the Baroque oboe.  It's a different sound, a different feeling.  It's all different.  If it's possible, I  use it for the big Baroque works of Bach, the Christmas Oratorio, St. John Passion, Matthew Passion.  I prefer to do it, but, of course, the whole orchestra has to be like this.  Everybody has to be on Baroque instruments.  From here, I'm going to the Bach festival in Oregon to play the St. Matthew Passion, but of course with the modern instruments.  Helmuth Rilling is conducting that.

BD:  After you've played Bach on the old instrument, are you disappointed to have to use the newer one at other times?

IG:  No, I cannot say that.  Playing with the old, historical instruments is a really special thing, and what you have to do with the modern instrument is to imitate a little bit the feeling.  If you can play the historical instruments, you know more about what is possible with the articulation, and about the balance between the instruments.  You really have a better feeling if you know how to play the old instruments, so you can find a way to play on the new ones with the same balance.  I think that is important.  It is also important for young people.  It's not enough to teach, "Play like that," or, "Play like that."  They have to understand, really, and in the end, it's only possible by playing the old instruments, I think.

BD:  Is the newer instrument technically easier than the older instrument?

IG:  Yeah, of course, technically it's easier.  It was the reason to find the new applications.  You could only produce some of the semitones, such as the G-sharp, by taking off the finger a little bit, you know, and that changes the tone color.

BD:  Oh yes, it's an open-hole rather than a key with a pad.

IG:  Yeah.  But when you have a key, it can be clear.  So, of course, it's easier.

BD:  You couldn't take an old instrument and put new keys on it?

IG:  [Thinks for a moment]  It might be possible to do that, but I don't know exactly.  You might have to move something else and change the bore on the inside.  I'm not an instrument maker.

BD:  But you are a complete oboist - Baroque oboe and modern oboe.

IG:  Yeah, I think so.  That is necessary today.

BD:  Also heckelphone and English horn?

IG:  English horn, of course, and oboe d'amore [Goritzki pronounces it "oboe d'amour"].  Speaking of the Heckelphone, last year I recorded the Trio, Op. 47 by Hindemith, for viola, heckelphone, and piano.  I had a half year to work on it.  It was really quite another instrument.  It's near the bassoon.  The reed is almost a bassoon reed, and fingering is nearer to the oboe.  But it was really interesting, and a beautiful piece.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  From the repertoire for the oboe, how do you decide which pieces you will spend time learning and playing?  Or do you simply play anything written for the oboe?

IG:  Sometimes I am asked to play a piece and okay, in that case I will learn it.  But we have a standard repertoire, and to keep it in a good level you have to always work on it.  And in addition, I like to learn contemporary music.  You have to learn because there are always new things coming.

BD:  I assume you feel this is a good thing.

IG:  It's a good thing, yes, I think.

BD:  What advice do you have for a composer who wants to write for the oboe?

IG:  Advice?  [Thinks for a moment]  Once, Isang Yun, the Korean composer, wanted to compose a work for me, and he asked me, "What would you like?  How do you want it?"  And I said, "Please, Isang, I wait to see what you will do.  I have no advice for that."  However, I made some suggestions for the cadenza and he made the cadenza with those ideas.  But I had no influence on the rest of the piece.  [Note:  This became the Duetto Concertante for oboe and English horn, cello, and strings.  To read my interview with Isang Yun, click  here .]

BD:  Do you want the composer to write the cadenza?  Originally, of course, the performer wrote it, or improvised it on the spot.

IG:  Yeah, but that was in the Classical time.  Today, the cadenza is a part of the piece by the composer.  In a Mozart concert, you have to do it yourself.

BD:  Well, when you're playing a piece, whether it's Mozart or Isang Yun, how much is Mozart or Yun, and how much is Ingo Goritzki?  How much of yourself do you put into the piece?

IG:  I don't know.  Maybe the audience will decide what it thinks is Mozart or me.  Of course, I try to know exactly the text by Mozart, but the interpretation has to go through myself; that is clear.

BD:  Not only through your head, but also your heart?

IG:  Yeah, yeah.  Right.  And in that sense, it is not possible to play objectively.

BD:  Do you play the same for an audience as you do for the microphone in the recording?

IG:  Yes, I try to do that, but in the concert, there is always something happening.  But if something happens during a recording, you know the technique.  You can stop, and cut it up, and you can replace.  But if I begin to play, it doesn't matter.  I don't think of the microphone.

BD:  Is there such a thing as a perfect performance?

IG:  I am not a perfect player, but I know people who can do this - young people.  Our generation was different.  Okay, sometimes it is possible to play every note perfectly.

BD:  Well, now, perhaps we're talking about technical perfection.  What about  musical perfection?

IG:  [Takes a breath]  That depends.  If you are in a good situation, have a good feeling, you know.  I think different things have to come together.  And this rarely happens.

BD:  Then let me ask a big question.  What is the purpose of music?

IG:  It's a big question!  [Laughter]  I think it's difficult to say, but it's possible to feel it, you know?  For instance, .yesterday morning I went to the music center because I knew that Ray Still was going to give a lecture about orchestral excerpts for the oboe.  [Ray Still [photo at left] was a member of the Chicago Symphony for 40 years, joining it with Fritz Reiner in 1953 and becoming principal the following season.  His talk was entitled, The REALLY Difficult, Long Orchestra Oboe Solos.]  I didn't know him, and I heard very much about him, and I went there and found him sitting, and then he began to play.  I think that was it, you know?  That was it; it was so fantastic.  He began to play a solo from the Shostakovich symphonies, then a Schubert symphony and a Tchaikovsky symphony, and something happened.  I was glad to be there, you know?  And that is the purpose of music, I think.  Afterwards, I didn't know if I would speak with him, but I did come in contact with him, and it was so very good contact, and that began with the first tones of his playing!  It was incredible.  You also must look for an interpretation which fits to the composer, different composers, but finally, it is just a good feeling, you know?

BD:  And you hope this, then, gets communicated to the audience.

IG:  To the audience, yes.  And when that happens, that is the purpose of the music, I think.

BD:  When you are playing, are you conscious of the audience that is out there?

IG:  At first I am trying to concentrate on myself, but sometimes you have the feeling that you are together with the audience.  Sometimes you feel separated and that is not such a good feeling, but it happens, also.

BD:  Does the size of the house change that feeling?  A small house, a large house...

IG:  I generally prefer chamber music.  I don't like so much the big houses.  [Chuckles]  But of course, there are concerts  like yesterday night at Ravinia.  You have to play in another way, with the piano louder than normal.  I don't like it so much, but sometimes I have to do that, and I know how to do it.

BD:  I assume that you are asked to play all over the world.  How do you decide, "I will play here, I will play there, I will not play someplace else"?

IG:  Generally I have my places where I will enjoy playing.  I know the places in Brazil, for instance, I know the places in the United States.  I rarely say, "No, I don't' want to play here or here."  It is always connected with colleagues, with friends, so every time you have reason to go there and to play.

BD:  Is there a camaraderie amongst oboists?

IG:  Yeah.  You can feel it here at this conference of the Double Reed Society.  We have many of the same instrumental problems and discuss the different ways to win auditions.  We are connecting with people by asking, "How do you do that?"  We share information and that's really interesting.  It's also nice to have the different kinds of instruments all in one place.

BD:  Has the oboe now been standardized?  Is there a standard oboe?

IG:  Yeah.  I told somebody earlier today, "There are no more bad instruments."  [Chuckles]  All instruments really have a high standard.  Some are different in tone, or one instrument is more stable than another.  One might have more colors but be more difficult to play.  Another might be very good in the middle range, but not so good in the higher range.  So there are differences.

BD:  It seems like they take on an almost human quality.

IG:  Right.  Right.

BD:  Well, when you are performing, are you playing an instrument separated from yourself, or do you become the oboe?  Or does the oboe become part of you?

IG:  Yeah.  That's necessary.  That's absolutely necessary.  If you don't feel that while playing in concert, something is not good.  You have a reed and you have an instrument with its keys.  When you play, you have to forget these technical things, and play the music.  Therefore, you choose your instrument to have this feeling in concert.

BD:  Are you pleased with the young players coming along?

IG:  Very pleased, yes.  When I began to play the oboe, we did only a small part of the repertoire, which the young people are doing today.  Also the technical standards are going very high.  Sometimes it's really special when you are feeling, "I never could do that."  But this is a new generation, and they start on another level.  Some young oboists are really terrific.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  Is it very different playing in the section of an orchestra, and playing solo in front of the orchestra?

IG:  It's different, yes.  You have to find the balance between the instruments in the orchestra; you have to play together with clarinet, with flute, etc.  If you are playing in front of the orchestra, you don't have those problems.

BD:  They have to adjust to you!

IG:  Yeah!  Right.  So you are more free  If you are in the orchestra and you have a big solo, you are nearly free, but normally you have to dominate those problems of balance, intonation, etc.

BD:  Is it satisfying being principal oboe?

IG:  Yeah.  I played ten years in orchestras.  They were good orchestras, but not like the Chicago Symphony, for instance, with conductors like Fritz Reiner and Solti.  I think if you have played for a long time in such an orchestra with such fantastic maestros, that's different.  I felt this immense experience in Ray Still's lecture.  When he played, it was not only himself who played; you could hear the whole orchestra behind him.  I had this impression.

BD:  Well, that's 40 years' experience in the orchestra.

IG:  Yeah, it's his experience, absolutely.

BD:  But you're not doing that so much any more?

IG:  Sometimes I'm asked to play and I like to do it   I played in the Festival Orchestra in Bayreuth one year, and now I like being part of the Oregon Bach Festival   It's fun.  Every wind player, every oboist, has to play for a certain time in the orchestra.  It's necessary.

BD:  In Bayreuth, of course, you're down under the stage.  Did Wagner write well for the oboe?  I can hear in my mind some nice solos in Meistersinger...

IG:  [Without hesitation, in a deep, gravelly, enthusiastic tone of voice]  Yeah!  And in Götterdämmerung.  The Ring is fantastic.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:  Do you enjoy making records?

IG:  [Ponders the question for a moment]  Mmm...Yes.  I like to do it, because after recording you really know the piece.  [Chuckles]  Sometimes in concert, certain points can be done this way or that way, but if you have to record, it has to be just one possibility, and you have to decide in that moment.  That's important.

BD:  Then, a couple of years later, after you've recorded a piece, if you play it in concert, do you go back and get a clean score, and rethink the whole thing?

IG:  Yeah, of course.  Of course.  It could be just one day later.  [Chuckles]  If you remember the last concert and you feel that it was not so okay, the next day you can change.

BD:  So there's always something to learn.

IG:  Yeah, I think so.

BD:  Do you ever get finished with a piece?

IG:  [Without hesitation]  No.  No.  For instance, two days ago I played the Bach Sonata, and  I spoke with Ray Still today about the concert, and he made some suggestions.  He told me what he was feeling, and I decided to play one movement slower next time.

BD:  The music that you play, concert music, is this for everyone?

IG:  [Thinks for a moment]  Yeah, music is for everyone, I think.  Also contemporary music.  You can find a new language that people will understand.  It depends sometimes on the interpretation.  In that sense, I think it's for everybody.

BD:  In either old music or new music, how much is art and how much is entertainment?

IG:  [Chuckles and ponders the question for some time]  I think art can be entertainment, but entertainment can be art.  And in that sense, the two things are mixed.  They are really together, not opposite.

BD:  One last question.  Is playing the oboe fun?

IG:  It's like every other instrument.  Yeah, it's fun!  If you have that good feeling, like you said before, of being together with the instrument, you can take a piano, you can take a flute, or an oboe.  It's the same, I think.  For me it's more important what fits together in a musical sense.  That's the reason why I keep playing.




Ingo  Goritzki

Born in Berlin, Ingo Goritzki first studied flute and piano in Freiburg i.B., where he found his way to the oboe and completed his studies with Helmut Winschermann in Detmold. Studies in Paris and courses with Pablo Casals and Sandor Vegh followed. A prize winner at various national and international competitions, Ingo Goritzki was the solo oboist for the Basle Symphonie Orchestra and for Radio Frankfurt/M. In 1976 he accepted a professorship at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, later accepting a similar position at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart. He has performed internationally as soloist with numerous orchestras as well as at festivals such as the Oregon Bach Festival (USA), the Kasarsu Festival (Japan), the international festivals in Berlin and in Schleswig-Holstein. He also regularly gives master classes at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart and throughout the world. He is the co-founder of the Musikalische Akademie Stuttgart and the artistic director of "Sommersprossen", the Classic Festival in Rottweil. He has made numerous solo and chamber music recordings for the Swiss label Claves and the German labels Dabringhaus&Grimm, Capriccio and Hännsler.


© 1997 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded at the hotel in Evanston where the oboist was staying on June 27, 1997.  Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB in 2000.  This transcription was made early in 2007 and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.