There aren’t many people who can say they’ve been with LACO since the early days, but Allan Vogel is one of them. He joined LACO in 1972, just a few years after LACO’s inaugural performance, and became principal oboe in 1974 – a position he’s held every since. Now, after 44 years with LACO, Allan is prepping for his retirement at this end of this season. Don’t fret! There are still chances to see Allan perform on our stage, including Baroque Conversations 3 at Zipper Concert Hall on Thursday. We asked Allan to reflect on his career and experiences, and, in this interview, he recalls how he came to join LACO, how he avoided embarrassment at the White House, and shares what he’ll miss most.
LACO: You fell in love with oboe while in high school. What was it about that particular instrument that caught your ear?
Allan Vogel: I love the sound of the instrument. I went to the New York High School for Music and Art, as a voice major, and studied piano too. And I remember walking into the auditorium while the Bach Cantata 140 was being played. It has three oboes, and hearing them sparked something in my adolescent self, and it made me fall in love with the instrument. It took me a year or two to get to play the oboe, and I was really pent up during that time. When I finally started to play the oboe, I played it like crazy and have ever since.
You’ve been with LACO since 1972. How did this come about? Do you remember your initial audition?
Well, it’s an interesting story. I had just come to Los Angeles from New Haven, where I was a student at Yale. I was invited to play at Cafe Figaro, and I played a little recital on a Sunday morning. A contractor from LACO was there, and shortly after I was invited to join the group. Rules were different back then. Auditions now are a very organized kind of thing. In those days it was more of a freelance environment. I started as the second oboe, and at one point I was fired as second oboe – not by the music director, but by the first oboist – and then I was hired back as first oboe and he was fired, and we remained friends the whole time!
What have been some of the exciting changes you’ve witnessed as LACO has grown and evolved over the decades?
When I started, under [then Music Diector] Neville Marriner, LACO was very small. Two weeks in the fall and two weeks in the spring. And then the seasons developed more and more. We played in the pit for the LA Opera. I never thought I’d play so much opera, but I did. We’ve done tours, and whether it’s to New York or in Europe, they were always exciting.
I’ve worked with five different music directors [Neville Marriner, Gerald Schwarz, Iona Brown, Christof Perick, and Jeffrey Kahane], and each have put their stamp on the orchestra. Jeffrey, of course, is the current music director, and I very much like his stamp. There’s always something very special in the atmosphere of this orchestra, and it comes from the high technical excellence of the musicians, and also a hunger in the community for an orchestra like ours. LACO is very special, and very much like an extended family.
What’s your favorite memory from playing during a state dinner at the White House in 2000?
I remember meeting President Clinton and Hillary. All the musicians had the opportunity to meet them, and it was a lot of fun. The performance was part of a two-day trip on the east coast, and the day before, my tuxedo got damaged. There was a tear in the vest. I was going to wear it on the second day anyway, but I was reminded that we were going to the White House. So I went and rented a tuxedo for the performance, and I’m glad I did, because when I met the President, he put his hand on my shoulder, right where the tear would’ve been!
Let’s talk about your retirement – we’re sad to see you go! Why retire now?
I just celebrated by 72nd birthday, so that’s one thing. Another is… well, I’ve been so obsessed with oboe for so long. It’s an extremely consuming kind of instrument – as much as any other. We oboists jokingly say we all have a ‘Type O personality.’ I’ve done so much with my oboe career, and I could keep doing it, but it seems like the right time to leave some time for other things.
Are you retiring from all aspects of your musical career? Will you continue to teach or record, for example?
I will still teach, and I want to play more piano, explore more of Bach’s works. I haven’t reflected much about the future, because I still have to focus on what I have to play now! I’m still fascinated by the instrument, and it’s my nature to practice daily. I just want to see how things evolve. A little change in my life wouldn’t be bad.
I’ve been teaching at Cal Arts for 45 years, at USC for 20, and at the Colburn School for 10, and I’ve had so many great students. I feel very fulfilled in the students I’ve had and still have. Four or five of my students went on to play for LACO! I’ve benefited in my career from lots of teachers that kept teaching as they got older, so why shouldn’t I keep doing it? I’ll teach and play better if I’m not driving all over the place!
What will you miss most about LACO?
I would say the music making, and my various colleagues, and this includes both current members and the ones that left before me. I was once the youngest member in the orchestra, and now I’m certainly one of the oldest. I’ll miss the audience, as well. We have a wonderful audience that we can really feel a connection with. In fact, I look forward to being in the audience, and hearing what they hear. You don’t hear the proper balance when you’re onstage, because some of the musicians aren’t facing you. I’d like to be in the audience and hear the first violins better!
Any advice for the new LACO principal oboe? They’ll have big shoes to fill!
I would recommend practicing a lot, as I do! But this is unneeded advice – whoever gets the position will surely be practicing a lot already.