Principal Oboist of the Colorado Symphony since 1993 and Senior Instructor of Oboe at the University of Colorado, Peter Cooper has taught and performed as soloist with orchestras in Asia, Europe and the United States. He previously held positions in the San Francisco Symphony and Principal Oboist of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestras.
Mr. Cooper has commissioned and premiered five oboe concertos. In 2001 Mr. Cooper recorded the Strauss and David Mullikin Oboe Concertos with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. This recording along with the CD Whispers of the Past for oboe and harp was released on Summit Records to great critical acclaim. He previously recorded Heinrich Schweizer’s Oboe Concerto with the London Philharmonic.
He has also premiered concertos by Bill Douglas and Gregory Walker with the CSO.
A prize winner in the Tokyo International Oboe Competition, Peter Cooper is a frequent guest Principal Oboist with many American orchestras. He has toured and recorded with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and has played first oboe with the Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, San Diego and Milwaukee Symphonies as well as the Israel Chamber Orchestra.
Mr. Cooper plays on Marigaux oboes and Marigaux, Paris, has sponsored him in recitals and master classes throughout the United States and Asia.
A graduate of Northwestern University, he studied with Ray Still and Gladys Elliot. He has played Principal Oboe in the Grand Teton Music Festival since 2000 and has played in Strings in the Mountains and the St. Bart’s Music Festival among other festivals.
You are a strong believer in expanding the solo repertoire for the oboe. What are your thoughts on the current oboe music landscape?
There are many new works being created for the oboe. Only time will decide which ones will form a lasting place in the repertoire. For me, I am drawn to tonal music that brings out of the oboe what it does best which I think is to sing and touch the audience. Music that is described as, “interesting and new” is less interesting to me.
How has your playing changed over the years?
I think my playing has matured as I have gotten older. I see life as far more complex and ambiguous than I did when I was younger. I try to bring out lots of “in between” or layered emotions now more than when I was starting out professionally. I try to convey things like happiness tinged with regret or nostalgia; or joy with a hint of warning or concern. In other words, life is rarely simply “happy” or “sad”. It is important for the performer to express life’s richness in all its complexity.
Do you have any practice and pre-concert rituals?
I play far too many concerts to stick to a rigid ritual. Ideally I like to rest before a concert but that is a luxury I rarely experience. I always like to go into a concert with a choice of reeds. I always play on at least 2 reeds per concert (one on each half) and if I have 3 concerts in a weekend I need to have at least 4 or 5 good reeds before the first concert begins. In practicing, I always like to develop a musical, “point of view” before the first rehearsal. I want to have an opinion on how I want to play a passage and I will do my utmost to “sell” it to a conductor at the first rehearsal. On the other hand, I want to be flexible because if the conductor isn’t buying what I’m selling, I want to be able to completely alter my plan as necessary. When practicing technical passages, I feel you are building emotional and psychological strength as you drill your fingers. You need to develop a technique that will hold up under pressure. This has to be done in the practice studio monitoring your confidence level as the speed increases. I call this your, “Inner Freak-out Meter”. If you practice with your Meter on high, you will most likely collapse under pressure. If you always practice technique free of anxiety, you are more likely to continue that serenity under the gun. Sometimes that means starting practicing technical passages at ridiculously slow tempos and only gradually increase the speed while checking in to your anxiety level and making sure it is low.
When you are not playing the oboe, what do you enjoy doing?
My hobby is playing golf. I’m not as good as I would like to be but I have taken great comfort in the idea that I play golf a million times better than Tiger Woods plays the oboe. I also enjoy being with my wife and 2 children.
What would you say are the most important approaches in introducing beginners to learning the oboe?
Beginners need an oboe that is in good adjustment (even if it is a student model) and a source of reeds that play well. My former teacher and mentor said, “You have to have your oboe working and your reed working before you can even begin to tell if you are working”. Also, a good teacher who can get the beginner started with good habits is important. The oboe is far too difficult to not have professional guidance.
Could you highlight some upcoming musical projects that you are excited about?
Next month, I’ll be playing a Concerto at the IDRS convention in Georgia, USA and also giving a master class on the Beethoven Symphonies. This is consuming most of my practice time at the moment.
Anything else you would like to add?
If you are stressed out by the difficulties of life, view your oboe practice time as an escape from your other troubles rather than yet another burden. Learn to say, ‘For the next hour I will only think about my oboe and the music and not the other disasters in my life.” Also, if your life is not going as smoothly as you’d like, remind yourself how lucky you are to have a vehicle such as your playing to release some of your emotions and sorrow into your music. I’ve thought to myself, “how lucky I am,when I’m feeling down, to have this music in which to place some of my sadness”.