I gave my first concert on a plastic reed on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t the Strauss Oboe Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall, fortunately, but rather an intimate family concert to celebrate her 95th birthday at my mother’s sheltered accommodation in Salisbury (see Being at your own Pre-Funeral). I believe the average age was a musically tolerant 80.
I am an amateur musician, and have been playing the oboe for nearly fifty years, on and off. Over the last twenty years, more off than on, unfortunately, though there have been bursts of activity when I’ve found a piano-playing friend. I’ve always struggled with the making of cane oboe reeds. It takes hours, most of them are no good, and the good ones last two weeks or so. I’ve also found that I can’t buy ready-made reeds that suit me. So recently I’ve become rather excited about the new ‘plastic’ oboe reeds produced by Legere (see The Artificial and the Natural).
Well, I bought four of them and whilst bicycling in the Dordogne two weeks ago I adjusted them to my own liking – ruthlessly removing the hump-and-spine features of the ‘European Scrape’. I don’t mean I did this whilst actually bicycling. I mean at the end of the day in hotel bedrooms when there was nothing else to do.
I should point out that they are expensive, which I take as a measure of how far oboists will go to solve the reed problem.
I am, on the whole, pleased with the result and I got one of the four reeds to the stage of being the best reed in the box. So I played on it on Saturday – Poulenc, Bach, Boismortier, Stravinsky and Rossini, with my brother (flute), his partner (violin), and my two nephews (piano and bassoon). The result did not provoke a riot.
The oboe world is buzzing with curiosity about these reeds, so I’ve added my own comments in a short YouTube video – To Scrape or Not to Scrape.. I strongly believe that within a few years we’ll all be using them. Legere will inevitably produce different varieties and their materials will improve. Perhaps the price might also decline.
It’s years since I’ve played the oboe as frequently as I now intend to. Plastic has changed my life. Forty years ago when I began to play the oboe I could never have imagined that I might believe this.