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CLASSICAL  July 2006

CLASSICAL July 2006

Subject:

John Mack, Oboist Supreme, Dead at 78

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 25 Jul 2006 07:16:39 -0400

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text/plain

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 From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

   By Donald Rosenberg
   Plain Dealer Music Critic
   
   John Mack, the revered former principal oboe of the Cleveland
   Orchestra and teacher to several generations of superb players,
   died of complications from brain cancer Sunday at University
   Hospitals of Cleveland. He was 78.
   
   Mack, a resident of Cleveland Heights, was considered a giant
   in his field. He served as principal oboe of the Cleveland
   Orchestra from 1965 until his reluctant retirement, due to an
   eye condition, in 2001. During those 36 years, a record in the
   post, he played under three music directors - George Szell, Lorin
   Maazel and Christoph von Dohnanyi - and the conductor who would
   become music director in 2002, Franz Welser-M=D6st.
   
   Along with his legacy of performances and recordings, Mack taught
   oboists who hold positions in orchestras throughout the United
   States and abroad. Among them are principal players in the Boston
   Symphony (John Ferrillo), Cleveland Orchestra (Frank Rosenwein)
   and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (Elaine Douvas).  Mack also
   taught two other current Cleveland Orchestra oboists, Elizabeth
   Camus and Jeffrey Rathbun.
   
   'John Mack was an icon of the Cleveland Orchestra,' said David
   Zauder, a retired member of the orchestra's trumpet section and
   personnel manager. 'He touched thousands of lives with his special
   way of helping. He made everybody better.'

   When he wasn't performing in the orchestra, playing golf or
   regaling colleagues with amusing stories, often in the thick
   French accent of his esteemed teacher, Marcel Tabuteau, Mack
   shared his knowledge of his beloved, and notoriously difficult,
   instrument.
   
   He served as chairman of the oboe department and woodwind division
   at the Cleveland Institute of Music, taught in the Kent/Blossom
   Music program and held an annual summer oboe camp in Little
   Switzerland, N.C.
   
   Mack instructed students not only in the fine points of oboe
   playing and music-making, but also in the tricky and crucial art
   of reed-making.
   
   'Oboe teachers don't really know how to make reeds, and if they
   do, they don't like to give away their secrets or know how to
   express it,' said Rosenwein, who studied with Mack at the Cleveland
   Institute of Music. 'He was able to express very clearly how to
   make reeds and musically how to best express using the unique
   qualities of the instrument.'
   
   Mack, whose playing was noted for a distinctive ripeness of
   sound and elegance of phrasing, attributed what he called the
   'cosmopolitan' nature of his oboe tone partly to Tabuteau, the
   longtime principal oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with whom
   he studied at the Curtis Institute of Music.
   
   Mack believed his own playing was marked by a 'tone of complexity
   and completion,' he told The Plain Dealer in 2001, shortly before
   his retirement from the orchestra. 'The tone has to have enough
   gumption. Szell wanted the tone to be heard, even if it sounded
   false to you [onstage].'
   
   In a 1980 interview, Mack articulated what he felt was the key
   to one of the conductor's supreme achievements with the Cleveland
   Orchestra - balance.
   
   'If you were a player who had a solo passage, Szell would
   direct his attention during that solo to you so single-mindedly
   that it was a rejection of the rest of the orchestra, and they
   psychologically accepted that, fell back and let their concentration
   go toward you,' he said. 'It was as though the light had been
   turned on you and all other lights had been turned out.'
   
   Mack was born in 1927 in Somerville, N.J., and took up the oboe
   in sixth grade. He studied with Tabuteau and Bruno Labate while
   in high school and with Harold Gomberg at the Juilliard School
   of Music. After Juilliard, he worked with Tabuteau at Curtis.
   
   Mack began his professional career as first oboe of the Sadler's
   Wells Orchestra, touring North America. He served as principal
   in the New Orleans Symphony for 11 seasons and in the National
   Symphony in Washington, D.C., for two before joining the Cleveland
   Orchestra. (One of the pieces he played during his first concert
   with the orchestra, Ravel's 'Le tombeau de Couperin,' can be
   heard on 'The Cleveland Orchestra Seventy-Fifth Anniversary
   Compact Disc Edition.') He also participated in the Casals and
   Marlboro festivals.
   
   By the time he became principal oboe in Cleveland, he'd already
   auditioned for Szell twice: the first time in 1953 at the Casals
   Festival in Prades, France, where he was playing assistant to
   Tabuteau; the second in 1959, when Szell hired another oboist
   as principal in Cleveland.
   
   When he finally won the Cleveland job in 1965, Mack discerned
   a different Szell from the tyrant of whom he'd heard so much.
   
   'A lot of people didn't like working with him because he was
   tough,' Mack said in the 2001 Plain Dealer interview. 'I loved
   him. As demanding as he was, it seemed to me always for the sake
   of the music. It was never for self-aggrandizement.'
   
   Similarly, Mack had a reputation for toiling endlessly to improve
   himself and to nurture his students.
   
   'I feel he really revolutionized or redefined how oboe is taught,'
   said Rosenwein. 'He knew he wasn't the most talented person. He
   really had to work for what he had. The tools he was able to
   give to his students let them in on how to become great.'
   
   Mack derived as much joy recounting tales of Tabuteau, Szell and
   others as he did recalling favorite performances.

   'He had every reason to take great pride in looking back on a
   wonderful life in music,' said David Cerone, president of the
   Cleveland Institute of Music. 'He was the absolute epitome of
   all that it means to be an artist and a teacher.'
   
   Yet Mack also was an artist who could look whimsically on life
   in the fast oboe lane while taking his art seriously.
   
   'If you're going to play the oboe, you have to have elementary
   bravery, or you're in big trouble,' he said in 2001. 'Some of
   them are nutty, wild and unreasonable. I call myself a quintessential
   Cleveland Orchestra player - orthodox, but zippy, and nonwacko.
   I hate wacko.'

Scott Morrison

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