[ Artist Spotlight ]
Stephen Taylor holds the Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III Solo Oboe Chair with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and teaches at the Yale, Manhattan, and Juilliard schools of music. He has more than 300 recordings under his belt, has been nominated for a GRAMMY® (Carter’s Oboe Quartet), and was awarded a performer’s grant by the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University. Taylor plays principal oboe with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and is in the New York Woodwind Quintet. He summers at popular festivals and, being obsessed with buoyancy, spends his free time on his old wooden boats in Maine. More
When you are away touring, do you bring anything special with you to remind you of home?
I do! When I’m away I always have my favorite sweatshirt packed no matter what the temperature. It’s our son’s high school swim team sweatshirt, and I’ve taken it with me for the past 10 years! Yes, it has been washed regularly!
When you fly, what do you like to read? How do you pass the time?
Generally I watch fun shows on my iPad or do NY Times crossword puzzles (Monday’s). If I’m connecting I like to pick up the local paper and check out the Arts sections. It’s amazing how many friends are doing concerts everywhere!
What is a favorite non-musical past time?
We have a couple of old wooden boats on a peaceful lake in Maine, and I’m out on the water as much as possible in the summer months. All year I walk 2 or 3 miles every day. We have great nature walks where we live in NJ the Palisades cliffs over the Hudson, Tallman Mountain etc., all just a few minutes away. During the winter I enjoy chopping and stacking wood to feed our hungry wood stove.
What is your favorite concert hall (aside from the Music Shed of course) to play in and why? And it doesn’t have to be for a musical reason.
I’d have to say Carnegie Hall! It’s like a huge graceful wooden ship. You can feel the history when you’re there — just think of the audiences and performers who have been in that same incredible space since the days before cars, phones, the internet! Thank goodness (and Isaac Stern) that it’s still with us, having survived the threat of demolition in the 60s! I’ve been told that I have played more concerts in Carnegie Hall than any living oboist! If true, that’s quite a fine little statistic! I’ll have to count ‘em up before I can put that in my bio!
What does it feel like right before you walk onto the stage? What runs through your mind?
Wow, that really depends on the situation — sometimes I’m excited, sometimes relaxed, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes super comfortable! Mostly I truly want to share what I’m playing with the listeners. Often, to a certain extent, they’ve trusted the performers with their emotions and I feel a responsibilty to show my true self musically and open up to them. It helps me to think about this before I play.
Do you have any pre-concert traditions?
Yup, I’m not drawn to the private dressing room scenario-I love to be with the gang backstage and have some good laughs and snacks before a particularly difficult concert. Pre-concert socializing is a must for me!
Is there a work that brings to mind a particularly happy memory? For instance, is there a piece that made you want to play your chosen instrument, or one that always reminds you of home or a favorite place? Would you share the work and the memory?
When I was 15 and playing French horn at a music camp on Lake Placid I attended a faculty concert and heard the oboe live and played well for the first time in my life. It was the Mozart Oboe quartet K.370. I was absolutely taken with the oboe — the sound, the fast notes, the look of it, the crazy little reed that was always being adjusted and of course the music itself. The very moment that I got home 2 weeks later I drove my parents nuts with begging to switch to the oboe. The little saying “you don’t always get what you deserve — you get what you negotiate” came into play. A deal was brokered, and I made the change. It so happened that for 2 years I had been suffering with a crush on the only oboe player in the high school band and now I got to sit next to her every day! I was in heaven, and eventually she decided that she liked me too and we were a happy pair for the next 3 years!
Everyone dislikes as least one thing about their profession. Aside from being away from loved ones and home, what is your least favorite part about being a musician?
You know, I really love all I do as a musician — it’s more a question of what I can’t do. If I had kept up my piano practice when I was a tween I’d be able to accompany my students, play through Beethoven sonatas, revel in Ravel, live in every note of a Bach piece. I didn’t and I know I’m missing the fun of playing all of the voices instead of just one…
Do you find that your training and skills as a musician are helpful in non-musical areas of your life? Would you share an example?
Absolutely — life really is like chamber music. Trying to be open to other points of view, mutual respect, finding unity through diplomacy and compromise. It seems to me that more often than not, nothing wonderful can happen without these powerful (sometimes elusive) tools being employed. Simply being on the road in lousy traffic can be a supreme challenge, as we all know. Sometimes I use my commute from NJ to Yale or NYC as an “etude” to practice these skills and see if I can access them when someone’s honking at me to get through the toll more quickly or move over or just DIE! As I descend into profanity once again, I realize I’m not doing such a good job with my “etude”, but at least I’m trying!
What is one of your favorite pieces of music and why?
Josef Suk’s Scherzo Fantastique Opus 25! This is a little gem of an orchestra piece with some of the most beautiful themes and sounds ever! Also, I’m extremely partial to Mozart Piano concertos! If there is perfection in music, this is it!
Is there anything about the way classical music is presented to the world that you would like to see change or evolve?
I’d love to see much more music made in homes by family members. [Read Paul Hawkshaw’s email blast A Baroque Perspective article]. It doesn’t matter whether its guitar, recorder, piano, drums, voice, spoons, etc. There’s a healthy and necessary release from the general turmoil and complexity of one’s daily life when one creates a musical moment no matter how brief. It seems to me to be one of our primary and most ancient forms of personal distraction as humans. The next time you hum or whistle a little ditty or tap out a rhythm notice if you were thinking about the stock market downturn or that your foot hurts. This home oriented music-making could translate into a slightly more pronounced emphasis on patronizing live music. One can dream!
Is there a particular piece of advice/insight that you share with your students about being a musician?
Hmmm…yes. There’s an ebb and flow to our lives and I think, if we strongly embrace integrity and seek out beauty, we have a better opportunity to find happiness.
Often we hear people say that they don’t listen to classical music or go to classical music concerts for fear of not “knowing anything about it” or “understanding it.” How would you respond to them? What three works would you recommend as an introduction to the genre?
OK, so the chef personally brings to your table the specialty of the house. You are not expected to know how it was made, the various ingredients, at what temperature it was cooked and for how long. If you are interested in these things you can ask but the expectation is that you will thoroughly enjoy the experience of the “eating”. You taste it, and either it tastes good or it doesn’t or maybe its somewhere in between. Lots of listeners do enjoy concerts more if they invest a wee bit of time looking things up – its so easy now with Google — such as the composer’s dates or the circumstances surrounding the creation of a particular piece. (I’m always fascinated by the idea that during the Baroque period and before, everyone was scratching madly at fleabites and eating lots of cheese, and that ladies would bring their lap dogs to concerts in Haydn’s time). We all have different preferences in music and they’re all legit. As for introductions to classical music, I suggest that the curious start by seeking out live concerts in intimate spaces where both the music and the venue look interesting. Being up close to excellent performers can be quite thrilling and usually leaves concert-goers with a desire for more! I feel that players generally give their most heart-felt performances when an audience is present rather than at a recording session. The audience really is part of the performance! Go hear the Bach Brandenburg Concertos, some Mozart String Quartets or one of Norfolk’s free Fellow’s concerts which have great variety and energy!