Young Artists Autumn Showcase: James Turnbull Q&A

Monday 5th September 2011

Since completing his studies at both Christ Church, Oxford and the Royal Academy of Music, James Turnbull is at the forefront of contemporary oboe performance. The release of his debut CD Fierce Tears contains performances of contemporary works by composers such as Michael Berkeley and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, many of which are world premier recordings.

Why did you choose the oboe?

I heard the oboe on my way to school on the car radio aged 6. As soon as I heard it I wanted to learn more about the instrument and badgered my parents until they found a way of getting me lessons.

If you didn’t play the oboe for a living, what would you do?

I think I would most like run an arts organization such as a venue or a festival.

If you could, which composer, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? What would you cook?

I think it would be Prokofiev – I’m not sure what I would cook but he wouldn’t be allowed to leave before writing an oboe concerto.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I think it was probably performing at the Wigmore Hall last year. The acoustic and  atmosphere are very special.

What would your dream concert be?

To play in, it would have to be a mixture of solo and chamber music that would have to include the Poulenc Trio for Oboe, Bassoon & Piano and also the Mozart Oboe Quartet. As an audience member it would have to be a concert featuring any Sibelius Symphony.

Which Football team do you support?

Crystal Palace – its been a long 20 years of watching some fantastic football and a great deal of terrible football…

What do you do to relax?

I enjoy watching sports – particularly football. If the weather is good enough I like to go for a long walk or a run.

Have you got any hobbies or hidden talents?

I love photography and its something I would like to pursue more when I have more time.

How much practice do you do?

It varies but never more than 4 hours in a day. If I’m rehearsing then that time can be longer.

How much time do you spend making reeds?

I spend several hours a week on reedmaking. I try to keep it to a minimum though.

What would you say to inspire others to learn the oboe?

It has some of the most fantastic repertoire, both in orchestra and as a solo instrument. Its role within the orchestra is such an interesting one too. The sound is so flexible and the instrument is much more versatile than people think.

Would you ever audition for Britain’s Got Talent?

Definitely not.

What was the last concert you saw?

My teacher Nicholas Daniel performing with the Aronowitz Ensemble as part of the BBC Chamber Prom series.

If you could discover a lost oboe concerto, which composer would you like it to be written by?

Its hard to narrow it down to one composer but I would say Brahms or Stravinsky (during his neo-classical period) would be choices of mine. I sometimes think a concerto from Ravel or Debussy would add an incredible dimension to the repertoire. Barber and Elgar both started writing oboe concertos and left single movements prior to their deaths so if either of those had been completed that would have been amazing. It would be fantastic to go back and get these composers to write concertos but I think that’s another reason to make sure as much as possible new music for the oboe is written by our current array of composers.

Why is it important for you to promote contemporary music?

I feel its a difficult question to answer succinctly because there are so many reasons to promote contemporary music. We are very fortunate to have so many wonderful composers alive in the UK today. The creation of new music that explores and extends the repertoire is one of the most exciting things. If we did not continue to push the boundaries of the instrument and encourage the creation of new repertoire, it would be a great shame as the oboe and cor anglais have so much to offer.