Described by The Independent as “a worthy champion” of contemporary oboe music, James has dedicated much of his performing life to promoting and extending the oboe repertoire. James has performed frequently throughout the UK and Europe including a solo recital at the Wigmore Hall in 2010. He has broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and appeared as a soloist in numerous UK festivals including Oxford, Leicester, Cambridge, Thaxted, Ryedale, Machynlleth, Swaledale and, King’s Lynn. James has released solo recordings for Champs Hill Records, Quartz Music and the ABRSM as well as featuring on a disc of Thea Musgrave’s works for Harmonia Mundi USA. Gramophone Magazine described his debut recital disc, Fierce Tears, as a “notable debut” and it was selected as the Editor’s Choice Recording by Classical Music Magazine.
James was seven when he began his oboe studies, learning with Irene Pragnell, Melanie Ragge, Celia Nicklin, Tess Miller and Chris Cowie. After gaining a First Class degree in music from Christ Church, Oxford University, James continued his oboe studies at the Royal Academy of Music and under Nicholas Daniel at Trossingen Musikhochschule in Germany, where he was awarded First Class for both his Artist and Soloist Diplomas.
Please let us know more about your site learntoplaytheoboe.com. What are the most common questions oboe beginners have? What are your plans for this platform?
I set up LearnToPlayTheOboe.com back in 2011 as I was giving a series of education workshops in London for the Worshipful Company of Musicians and found the same questions being asked every time. It struck me that there was no clear resource that helped someone easily find their first steps towards taking lessons on the oboe and getting started. It’s not a perfect resource and I’m always trying to find out ways to make it more useful to those beginning. Most often people get in touch about very specific issues with their reeds or instrument. The site reaches over 15,000 unique visitors a year now and I’m exploring ways to extend it and make it more use. In particular I’m keen to find new resources that are useful to potential oboists in a wider variety of countries as I’m aware its heavily biased towards people in the UK. If anyone has tips for how to improve it I’m always keen to hear from them through the website’s contact page.
When you are not playing the oboe, what do you enjoy doing?
Life is very busy for me at the moment as I have two small children at home so that is where I dash back to the second I am not with my oboe. I thoroughly enjoy setting up new projects that open up classical music and the oboe to new audiences so am often near my laptop working on those. I’m also guilty of being a long suffering football fan so tend to gravitate towards the latest football scores. Whenever I get the chance to travel, my treat is to take my SLR camera with me and do a bit of amateur photography.
Do you have any practice and pre-concert rituals?
I used to but now I’m always trying new things. I don’t like feeling set in my ways so rituals are something I try to avoid if possible.
Could you tell us a little bit about your primary instruments?
I play a Loree 125 model bought in 2013. I absolutely adore this instrument. Having spent 9 years on a Loree Royal, I moved to the 125 and found it gave so much depth and power that I was searching for. In particular I enjoy the higher register that the instrument has and often find I use that area in recitals as I often play a lot of new music for oboe that often gravitates towards the 3rd octave. One of my reasons for having this oboe was that I have a Loree Royal English Horn from my school days. I always try to programme one EH work in every solo recital.
What advice would you give to composers wanting to write new music for oboe?
I always try to be as free as possible in the advice I give. If composers ask me about particular repertoire then I sometime mention pieces I find myself playing regularly. I always remember my old teacher, Nicholas Daniel, answering this question for me in a lesson. He made the point that for a lot of composers they may only ever write one piece for the instrument so the best thing to do is give them the creative freedom to write something that means a lot to them rather than being overly specific. Like much of what he taught me, this is something I often return to when working with composers.
What's in store for the New Oboe Music Project in the coming year?
The discover of new repertoire is something that I still find an amazing experience. My work with the New Oboe Music Project is really about me trying to develop new repertoire and promote existing repertoire so I’m working on various strands for that. The next fresh project is a catalogue of oboe works from 1950 to present day. This is incredibly time consuming to build but I’m getting there slowly and will soon be publishing it with the hope that others will add to it so that it is a comprehensive resource. In Late 2017 I’ll be launching the second Léon Goossens Prize for Emerging Composers which got off to a great start in 2016. More composers are being added in the next few months to the New Oboe Collection which is a publication series I curate with Composers Edition (http://composersedition.com/newoboecollection). The next big step once all of this is completed is to create a commissioning project that perpetuates new oboe repertoire from composers around the world. All of this takes a huge amount of time so if I can manage even a fraction of this in 2017 it will be a huge relief!
Anything else you would like to add?
I’m always keen for oboists and composers to get in touch with me if they think any of my website resources can be improved. I want to make it easier for composers to write for the oboe, for oboists to find new repertoire and most importantly for more people to learn the oboe. If anyone wants to get in touch, do visit james-turnbull.com and visit the contact page
James is deeply committed to expanding the oboe repertoire. He worked closely with Michael Berkeley, John Casken, Jonathan Dove, John Woolrich, Thea Musgrave and Tansy Davies on their compositions for oboe. Composers including Patrick Hawes, Thomas Hewitt Jones and Norbert Froehlich have also written for him. Most recently, James has started the New Oboe Music Project (NewOboeMusic.org) to promote contemporary oboe repertoire and the Leon Goossens Prize for Emerging Composers to help encourage a new generation of composers to write for the oboe. James also has a keen interest in researching lost repertoire and bringing to new audiences works which have been rarely performed. In 2011 he worked closely with Christopher Hogwood on preparation for a new edition of Thomas Attwood Walmisley’s Sonatinas for oboe and piano.
James is an active chamber musician and is Artistic Director of Ensemble Perpetuo. Founded in 2013, Perpetuo is a chamber music collective that specialises in multi-art form collaborations and innovative ways of performing chamber music in new contexts. James has also performed with other chamber music ensembles including the Berkeley Ensemble and the Allegri String Quartet.
Aside from his performing interests, James is dedicated to broadening the appeal of the oboe and encouraging young people to learn the instrument. To this end, he has launched the website LearnToPlayTheOboe.com which now receives over a thousand new visitors every month from across the world. James also teaches at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and gives masterclasses across the UK.
James plays a Lorée Oboe and Cor Anglais supplied by Crowthers of Canterbury. For more information about James and his playing, visit www.james-turnbull.com.