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recorded with Han de Vries in Amsterdam in July 2002.
The central parts of this interview appear in the booklet of the Han de Vries CD.
Some recorded excerpts are below. They are in MP3 format at 24kbps,
and should play almost immediately if your system can stream MP3 files.
JP: Han de Vries, you are the leading exponent of the so-called 'Dutch School' of oboe playing. But is there really such a thing as a Dutch School?
H de V: Yes there really is a Dutch school. This is a problem for us because all the people who are playing in this style have differences with the larger family of oboe players. On the other hand, we play with a very colourful and personal style.
JP: How did this this style come about?
H de V: We are a small country, surrounded by important countries like Germany and France. In the early nineteenth century the oboists in the Netherlands (and players of other instruments too) were all Germans, founding the Conservatories in the Hague, in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. But we are also a nation open to new developments (we were among the first to use antique instruments and performing texts, with players like Franz Brüggen, for example), and when we saw that the changes to the oboe in France meant that the instrument could do more things, we switched to these instruments. But I would say we have a German musicality, and we have kept the measurements of German reeds - wider than the French, with shorter staples.
JP: What difference does that make in practise?
H de V: Well the reeds last longer, for one thing! And with short staples we are not having to fight to get the notes up to pitch. And there is another factor too, which is that in this small country, the beautiful acoustic of our main concert hall the Concertgebouw is very important. When you don't have to fight to get a good result, the hall allows you to be more loose, and play with a freer embouchure. It also means that Dutch oboe players look much more normal when they are performing than players from some other countries!
JP: Who were your teachers, and what did you learn from them?
H de V: My teacher was Haakon Stotijn, first oboe of the Concertgebouw, and before that with his father Jaap Stotijn, who was of the Goossens generation. As kids they played on German instruments, with a Romantic, more or less pompous way of performing with conductors such as Mengelberg. They played quite loudly, with open reeds, and from them I learned orchestral playing, projecting a sound to the guy in the back row, who has also paid for a ticket…
JP: Not so much, though…
H de V: True, not so much, but maybe they did not earn so much.
JP: And looking at the younger generation, at your pupils for example; do they stick to the same principles, or do they go with current trends towards the Eurosound?
H de V: They have much more contact with the international level of oboe playing, with Germans, French, English and Americans; a style that is too 'different' would not be accepted in today's orchestras. I think this has a sad aspect to it, because when everything is so smooth, it loses human expression. If you listen to players from the past, for example Segovia on the guitar, or Casals on the cello, you hear the change of intervals produced by the hands. I like it if the music is not so perfect that you don't trust it any more.
Bach, concerto for oboe and violin - lip and breath control
JP: I must just ask a technical question: at the end of the slow movement, after many bars of playing solo lines you have to play a long F, and then a final rising phrase without falling over from lack of oxygen. How did you manage that? Is there a bit of careful editing in there?
H de V: No, absolutely not. It sounds vain, but I have no problems in playing very long lines without using circular breathing. I have good breath control, and I don't fight with the long F - I use a fork fingering which is a bit sharp, but with a relaxed embouchure, so I am not in the panic which can lead to breathlessness.
Mozart Oboe Concerto - vibrato and cadenzas
JP: How do you approach the concept of vibrato in a piece like this? I notice that in some places, like that first top C, you use very little vibrato and sometimes quite a lot.
H de V: My first answer may seem rather strange, in that my association is with jazz. If you listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and other great jazz singers, you hear this beautiful Miles Davis-like trumpet note that first is completely straight, because it is part of the harmony, and then it becomes a melody, or starts to tell a story. I think this is also one of the different aspects of the Dutch oboe school. If I hear French players, I often notice that in a long note the vibrato is exactly the same at the start as at the end. And I think a long note should have a direction, it should be understandable where it comes from. And especially in this Mozart, after the explosion of the first oboe entry, and the scale going up to the top C, then we have four bars, and the orchestra is busy under the top note. It is like opening a door in a strange house with people that you do not know; the best behaviour is to not start talking immediately, but first see what the atmosphere in that room is.
JP: Can I ask you about the cadenzas. Are they yours, did you write them?
H de V: Yes they are mine, but here again I feel very loyal to my teachers of the family Stotijn. They have given me all their time; so in the cadenzas I have parts of my teacher, and especially in the last movement. However, I must say that I should have followed my own taste, because there is a sort of diminished seventh chord that is a little bit more Kalliwoda than Mozart, I must confess; but anyway, it was a little gesture in the direction of my teacher, and in those days we were not so well informed about the rules and style of the old music.
JP: Do you have any advice for others on how to build up a cadenza - any guiding principles that you would suggest?
H de V: Yes; take the different themes of the movement and link them in a tasteful way; and note the instructions of Quantz who says that it should be not too long (though he is earlier than Mozart). And study Mozart's own examples in his Piano Concertos and also in his Piano Fantasies, where the writing is more cadenza-like.
Kalliwoda Concertino - phrasing, 'singing'
JP: Something struck me about your phrasing in the very first entry, which sounds very 'Dutch' - where you finish the phrase with a particular way of sliding from note to note…
H de V: Yes, but that is very clear in the music. It is printed legato, but it has also little accents on it, so it is a pressure accent that you give, which has a sort of rhetoric meaning, as if you make a very elegant introduction, and then you do something that goes to the lower register of the oboe, as if it is important what we do. [Laughs.]
JP: When you play the slow movement, do you think vocally?
H de V: Let me say first that the Dutch are not strong on singing - maybe it's our Calvinistic background. But expressing ourselves through language is something we do well. So we might think of the music as a story, with a text. Having said that - yes, it is like a kind of Aubade, saying in sounds how much love you feel. It's not deep, but it's a Romantic Aria, and it's good for us to try to get as near as possible to the human voice, and to be a good singer on our instrument.
Telemann C minor Concerto on Baroque oboe - starting again
JP: The technique of the Baroque oboe is so different to the modern one; you were willing to start again?
H de V: Yes. I hesitated; but Franz Brüggen encouraged me to try, even though I was playing first oboe in the Concertgebouw. This was extremely difficult, and it is one of the reasons I left the Concertgebouw. I was moving from playing with Szell, with Monteux, and Beethoven Symphonies with Klemperer. But if you are interested in the instrument that you play, it is necessary to go into the source and the beginning of that instrument. Finding the sound of the past - that was a stimulus to start all over again. And to add one nice aspect to it, I think that if I have at moments been a good teacher, it is because I really started all over again, and I had to practise on this instrument with no mechanism and different reeds.
Louis Andriessen Anachronie II and the 'crazy cadenza'
JP: That cadenza - was it actually written down, or did you just make it up?
H de V: The beginning is completely written down, and then you get an interruption of horns, and then the oboist goes totally berserk, and it is impossible to stop him; and there I follow my own crazy fantasy.
JP: Did he use every technique known to oboe players?
H de V: Andriessen was a student of Berio, and he knows very well what all the other composers wrote for oboe. There are multiphonics and some flutter tonguing. But there are no glissandi. The technique is not so extreme; it's more a matter of crazy intervals, and explosions of the reed.