Christopher O’Neal (interview)

Christopher O’Neal
Position: Co-Principal OboeCHris_ONeal

What year did you join the LMP?
1985

At what age did you start playing?
10

Apart from the London Mozart Players, what other musical activities are you involved in?
I very much enjoy a varied diet ranging from solo concertos and recitals through chamber music, chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras and opera to rock concerts (occasional!) and recording studios. I am oboist in the chamber ensembles The Fibonacci Sequence and Capricorn. Lately I have been more and more involved in coaching students at Trinity College where I teach a little, and at the Royal Academy of Music in chamber music and orchestral ensembles. This is both hugely rewarding and thoroughly intimidating as the students’ standard of playing is just wonderful these days.

What do you love about your instrument and why?
There is something visceral about the timbre of the oboe which I have always found irresistible – especially in the playing styles which were prevalent in my formative years, represented most particularly by Terence MacDonagh, Roger Lord, then Roger Winfield, Richard Morgan, and previously Pierre Pierlot. I long to emulate this kind of playing even though it is now considered unfashionable – it’s a vain quest of course but for me it’s what the instrument is about.

Which player of your instrument do you most admire and why?
I am a huge fan of Heinz Holliger – the ease of expression and fluidity of style appeal to me just as much as his ridiculous technical mastery.  It always saddens me that some people find it possible to dismiss him as a musician purely because they want to hear a fruity sound – they are missing so much. What I also love about his playing, and that of those masters I mentioned before, is that it is the music that we listen to, not the player’s idiosyncrasies and self-regarding interpretations.

What is your favourite piece of music and why?
This varies from day to day of course, and from mood to mood. Sometimes I can’t stop listening to a lovely record of music by Hildegard of Bingen sung by Emma Kirkby (who else?) but recently I’ve been immersed in something at the polar extreme in pretty much all respects – Strauss’s Salome!  It’s shattering stuff – I must say I return often to Richard Strauss for his exuberance and virtuosic expression. If I have to name one piece of music it would be Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and really it would have to be played in the style of (if not by) Glenn Gould in his intense and intelligent reading of 1980. This is a brilliant example of leaving the music to speak literally for itself – I can’t tire of hearing it.

What other types of music do you listen to?
I don’t turn the radio off if it’s not playing the classical repertoire, but on the other hand I can’t say that I stop and listen to it unless it has a particular message.

How do you spend your spare time, if you have any?
I can’t remember, but I do enjoy walks with the family when our free time coincides, and meeting friends for lunch.

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