As part of our programme on Friday evening at St David's Hall with associate guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, we will perform Strauss' beautiful Oboe Concerto.
As we are using reduced strings for this work, I had the opportunity to go along to the rehearsal simply to listen, rather than to play. It's one of the massive perks of our job - to have the opportunity to listen to some of the world's greatest artists, not just on the concert stage, but also in the more intimate setting of the rehearsal studio.
The soloist will be French oboist François Leleux and it was with great geekish excitement that Amy McKean (second oboe) and I went to watch the rehearsal.
Discovering Monsieur Leleux's playing was a bit of a discovery for me a number of years ago. I would not have said I was particularly enamoured by the sound of the oboe until I heard his recording of the Telemann Fantasies. After that, I bought his Mozart Concertos recording. Then I discovered his Strauss Concerto. I vowed to never tell another lame oboe joke for as long as I lived.
Watching him in rehearsal was a real inspiration. Every phrase is vivid and lives with feeling, and he has such clarity of expression when explaining what he wants. To be honest, in my experience anyway, the soloist explaining their musical ideas to the orchestra as a whole is sadly not something that happens very often. They'll converse with the conductor or with the leader of the orchestra, but the rest of us are not really 'noticed'.
At times, you can sometimes feel a little as though you are simply there as the vehicle to showcase their brilliance. Which is fine; sometimes the nature of a concerto is that the orchestra just provides a kind of harmonic bed for the soloist to lay their virtuosic pyrotechnics out on. However, with Monsieur Leleux, you get a sense that everyone on the stage is important in being part of the larger creative whole - that everyone's commitment to the music is completely indispensable.
What really bowls me over about his playing however is the sheer effortlessness and natural musicianship of it all. The long, languid lines of the opening movement seem to spin out endlessly and beautifully. When Leleux decides to take a phrase in a certain direction you are left feeling that of course that's the direction it should take, what other direction could it go?
I'm sure you get the picture. I'm normally a bit of a grump when I don't get to play in a work that I really like, but today, I was glad of it. I'm not throwing compliments around like confetti in a bid to pay any sort of lip service to anyone - I genuinely believe François Leleux to be an oboe playing genius and his playing inspires me. I'm sure my colleagues who are lucky enough to be sharing the stage with him on Friday night would agree.
François Leleux will perform Strauss's Oboe Concerto with the Orchestra at St David's Hall, Cardiff, tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm. For more information, contact the Box Office on 02920 878444.