Oboist Nicholas Daniel talks about his career, loves and memories ahead of his concert with Britten Sinfonia on 18 October, when he will premiere James MacMillan’s Oboe Concerto.
You’ve been with Britten Sinfonia since its formation, what is your favourite memory from the concert platform?
It has to be premiering John Tavener’s Kaleidoscopes. That piece has something very special inside it, and it was a huge physical challenge. It was really the combination of the inspiration of the work and the relief that I found I could actually play it at all!
And what is your fondest memory from backstage with the orchestra?
It’s very focussed backstage actually, and we all have places to go afterwards, but I loved when we came offstage after a Mozart Piano Concerto at Aldeburgh with Pierre Laurent Aimard, and he shocked me by saying ‘we were fabulous!”…. and then made me roar with laughter by saying ‘but as always, he was better’ meaning Mozart!
What’s it like to play within an orchestra’s woodwind section rather than as a soloist?
Hard. Much more time to be stressed and much more responsibility! I have to really work at being good at it.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I don’t think in those terms really, I look at the now as much as I can rather the past or the future, but I guess if you push me: always the Proms, the BBC Competition 30 years ago, obviously, but generally the highlights are when I play a new piece for the first time, it’s just such an honour and a buzz. John Woolrich’s Concerto for instance-such a moving work. I am also so happy when my wonderful students have successes in and out of the teaching studio. They work so hard.
When are you happiest?
I try and live in the now, I’m generally a very happy person and try to get maximum pleasure from each experience. I would say; when I’m with my sons, when I’m making music, when my students improve and notice it, when I’m with people I love, on taking off in a plane and at the sound of a fine bottle of red wine or Champagne being opened!
What is your earliest musical memory?
Gilbert and Sullivan at my piano teacher’s school in Welwyn Garden City. I was 5 and was riveted!
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
The Dalai Lama. His ability to give of himself is so inspiring and effortless. He embodies love and patience and the stillest of still places. I have an ambition to meet him.
What is your most treasured possession?
Other than my oboe it has to be my iphone! It is simply indispensable. I would bore you by going on about all the lovely things it does for me… I also have some beautiful multi-coloured sand that I was given from a Sand Mandala by the Monks of the Drepung Loselung Monastery when they came to my Festival in Leicester. They have some of my CDs in the library there now! It was a simply mind-blowing experience to see what happened when they blessed this art with music and prayer. They gave little bags of the sand from the destroyed mandala to us. The energy I feel from that sand is still incredible, I generally keep it near my oboe.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Straight to Bach’s Leipzig to start with to meet him and save all the lost music, then drop off on my way back to now at Mozart’s time to find what he did with the lost oboe concertos, then on to Beethoven, to rip the still-wet manuscript of the also lost oboe concerto out of his hands, then to visit Debussy to get him to hurry up with that sonata for oboe horn and harpsichord before he dies, then on to the young Leon Goossens to threaten him with extreme violence if he didn’t get concertos and sonatas out of his friends Sibelius, Ravel, Stravinsky, Elgar, and Britten.
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
It’s a joy to be with my sons and attend various of their happenings. I’ve taken up running, thanks to my trusty iphone and a programme called ‘couch to 5k’ which guides one through (over my own choice of music) to being able to run 5 kilometres 3 times a week over 3 months. I love to cook, the theatre, I just saw and love La Bete, musical theatre, (Priscilla!!) my eldest son is studying MT in London, concerts, cinema, walking, good wine, cocktails with friends, clubbing (!). I have a small collection of very fine contemporary art that I am very proud of and love passionately. Most of it was bought through the Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago. He’s a great friend of mine and I trust his taste in artists and in which are their best and most investment-worthy pieces. For instance Adam Eckberg, I have 3 of his works and Mike Nudelman is AMAZING.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Other than my sons, and in fact they are their own achievement, I would say it was the legacy of works I have commissioned and premiered over the last 30 years, and the fact that I have been able to take a relatively rare instrument and make it a little more known on a solo basis. I’m also very proud of the fine musicians I have helped to become professionals through my teaching, and of the ones I’m about to unleash on the public!
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To listen, in every respect, and to be myself, and I will hopefully be enough.
James MacMillan conducts the London premiere of his new Oboe Concerto, written for Nicholas Daniel and the Britten Sinfonia, on Monday 18 October. The concert also features works by Shostakovich and Beethoven. Click here for details and online booking.
Filed under: Chamber music, Classical season 10-11, Contemporary Classical, Get to know..., Queen Elizabeth Hall | Tagged: Adam Eckberg, Aldeburgh, Britten Sinfonia, Classical, classical music, James MacMillan, John Tavener, John Woolrich, Kaleidoscopes, Leon Goossens, Mike Nudelman, Nicholas Daniel, oboe, oboe concerto, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre | Leave a Comment »