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Monday, August 01, 2016 11:10am

Tales of the most beautiful oboe solo

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ASO Principal Oboist Celia Craig tells us why she’s looking forward to Glorious Brahms, and why the beautiful second movement of Brahms’s Violin Concerto is both challenging and sublime to play…

A highlight of this weekend according to the ASO’s very own Principal Oboe, award-winning British-born Celia Craig, is playing Brahms’s Violin Concerto.

Big, bold and ferociously difficult, Brahms’s Violin Concerto with its lyrical opening and gypsy-inspired finale is one of the most popular concertos in the violin repertory.

“Within this iconic violin concerto, there is a wonderful oboe tune: the beautiful main theme which begins the concerto's second movement, before the entrance of the solo violin,” Celia says.

“This slow movement is considered to be one of the most beautiful movements of any concerto and the oboe solo is both challenging and sublime to play,” she says.

And this oboe solo is sublime to listen to as well. Derived from the simplest of musical figures – the falling broken chord with which the violin begins – evolves into one of Brahms’s most soulful but restrained movements.

Long, soaring phrases, each building on the one before, make this a heavenly and challenging solo one of the most beautiful in the entire orchestral repertoire.

“I teach this to all my oboe students as part of our required ‘excerpts’ (the orchestral passages which any aspiring professional player must learn and will be expected to know), and of course I also learnt this solo in my student days at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and have performed it in every orchestral audition,” Celia says.

“The challenges are in the extreme breath control, maintaining support and cantabile lines like a singer, and using every technique to lengthen the phrase as much as possible so that it can feel endless (in a good way!).”

Image Credit: Celia Craig by Shane Reid


Celia explains that once the practice has been done, seeing Brahms Violin Concerto listed in a program always encourages “a little bit of adrenalin and excitement” and the reed preparation begins weeks in advance to create and refine the perfect reed with which to play this piece.

“At this stage of my career, nerves as such are not an issue, but there is inevitable adrenalin which ideally one interprets as excitement.

“In my earlier student days, this solo was always a challenge; being high, very exposed and very long. I’ve long found that breathing with the music and trying to express the mood of the harmony is a great approach – this is a calm, magical section, so jittery nerves would be completely the wrong approach.”

Celia first learnt this piece as a teenage violinist (not playing the solo part) and, having played violin in the local youth orchestra, finds this really helpful. She says, “I know it as music rather than simply from the solo oboe point of view”.

Celia encouraged her own students to practice both the first and the second oboe parts in the slow movement, so they can use it as duet practice.

“Playing together is a wonderful way to learn. Multi-tasking, blending, matching; not just simply receiving instruction,” Celia says.

Image Credit: Celia Craig by Shane Reid


“The idea is to feel a sense of the whole music rather than simply from the oboist perspective. It helps us identify the harmony and the chords and to understand the function of each note within the phrase.”

In the music, Celia adds pencil markings which help with intonation, (arrows up and down; sharper or flatter depending on the chord at that moment) and breathing marks (the V shapes). These also mark the phrases which Celia explains needs to be like “singing and feel natural as breath” marks. “The little straight lines are for counting (in this case quavers: it’s often conducted in 4 rather than 2).

“In every orchestra, the parts for Brahms’s Violin Concerto are often historic documents, as it has been a favourite piece of repertoire for many years.

“I’ve seen parts which principal oboists have signed, going back to 1935! And in the UK there are many copies which now have my pencilled signature too!” Celia says.

“It’s wonderful to feel part of a tradition with famous previous players, and to know these parts will probably carry on being used by orchestral players long into the future as well.”

Glorious Brahms is the fifth concert in our 2016 Master Series, and features Brahms’s Violin Concerto, Dvorák’s Symphony No 7 and the overture to The Bartered Bride by Smetana


A slow tempo, often said to be slower than andante but not as slow as largo. Some writers of the 18th and 19th centuries, however, regarded the term as designating the slowest of all tempos, especially the slow movement of a sonata, symphony, concerto or similar multimovement work.

Allegro giocoso
Fast, moderately fast tempo. Merry, lively.

Allegro non troppo
Fast tempo, but not too fast.

Moderately slow tempo.

To play in a smooth, lyrical, flowing style.

A concerto (from the Italian: concerto, plural concerti or, often, the anglicised form concertos) is a musical composition, whose characteristics have changed over time.

The rise and fall – the accuracy of pitch in playing.

Very slow tempo.

A movement is a self-contained part of a musical composition or musical form. While individual or selected movements from a composition are sometimes performed separately, a performance of the complete work requires all the movements to be performed in succession.

A woodwind instrument having a slender conical, tubular body and a double-reed mouthpiece.

A sonata is a composition for an instrumental soloist, often with a piano accompaniment, typically in several movements with one or more in sonata form.

A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, most often written by composers for orchestra.


The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra first performed: Brahms's Violin Concerto on 31 July 1947 with conductor Joseph Post and soloist Isaac Stern, and most recently on 17-18 June 2011 with Arvo Volmer and Tasmin Little; Dvoƙák's Symphony No 7 on 7-9 July 1955 under conductor Eugene Goossens, and most recently on 8-9 April 2011 with Arvo Volmer; the overture from The Bartered Bride on 17 January 1942 under conductor William Cade, and most recently on 4 June 2014 under the direction of Howard Shelley. 

This article was posted by Michelle Robins, Publications & Communications Coordinator, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Glorious Brahms
Fri 05 Aug 8pm & Sat 06 Aug 6.30pm
Adelaide Town Hall



Celia is a superb musician with complete mastery of her instrument. She also has a delightful personality.
Posted By: Colin Macdonald on Tuesday, August 02, 2016 12:00am

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