Becoming an English Horn Player: My own journey
Throughout my career, I have been asked what led me to become an English Horn player. As my Oberlin classmates will attest, I never played the English Horn while a student there. I was solely focused on playing the oboe since my goal at that time was to become a Principal oboist. In addition, I did not own an English Horn.
After graduating from Oberlin, I returned to the Chicago area. My plan was to study further with my mentor, Grover Schiltz (the legendary English Horn player in the Chicago Symphony), break into the busy free-lance music scene and take orchestral auditions with the hope of winning the job of my dreams. Grover had accepted me as his student while I was in high school and I studied with him during the summer breaks when I was a student at Oberlin. We had a wonderful working relationship and I knew that I would continue to develop as a musician by continuing to study with him.
Fortunately, I arrived in Chicago at a time when the music business was thriving, so I began to work steadily within a short period of time. I was principal oboe of the Elgin Symphony, a fine regional orchestra. In addition, I played with the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the Chicago Opera Theater, several ballet companies, the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago, Music of the Baroque, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and many other ensembles. On several occasions, I was fortunate enough to substitute with the Chicago Symphony. It was a marvelous education on many levels.
I distinctly recall a conversation with Grover during which I asked him whether I should buy a second oboe. He replied that I should buy an English Horn instead and that he had an instrument that he would sell to me. Since I trusted his judgement completely, I bought the horn which, a beautiful old Lorée #AU 73. As an aside, I won the auditions for both the San Antonio Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on that English Horn.
From time to time, I would play the English Horn on various jobs in the Chicago area. I recall playing 4th oboe/English Horn 2 on “The Rite of Spring” with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia. Of course, Grover played the first English Horn part beautifully! Although I enjoyed playing the English Horn, I had never really studied the instrument.
The turning point came when the Chicago City Ballet presented Prokofieff’s ballet, “Cinderella” at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago for four consecutive years during Thanksgiving week. To make a long story shorter, I was hired to play English Horn during the second year. Since I had played 2nd oboe the previous year, I knew that the English Horn part was beautiful and rewarding. But, I was surprised to discover that I truly loved playing the English Horn part in that ballet and that it was really enjoyable. Grover and his wife, Bev, attended one of the performances and he telephoned me afterwards to congratulate me on my performance. It was at that point that I began to seriously rethink my career goals.
In the spring of 1986, an advertisement appeared in the “International Musician” newspaper for an audition for English Horn and Assistant Principal Oboe in the San Antonio Symphony scheduled to take place in September. I immediately telephoned Grover and told him about the upcoming audition. I knew that my English Horn skills needed to be honed, so I asked whether it would be possible to spend the entire summer working with him exclusively on the English Horn. He replied that I should come to his home for a lesson the following week and be ready to play several of the excerpts on the audition list. We worked tirelessly all summer and I learned so much from him during each lesson. I began to truly understand the differences between the English Horn and the oboe, ways to approach the excerpts and how to play the English Horn convincingly. The importance of studying with a real English Horn player became crystal clear to me. I seriously doubt that I would be where I am today without those invaluable coachings.
In September of 1986, I won the audition for the San Antonio Symphony. I immediately moved to San Antonio to begin the next chapter of my career. My experiences in San Antonio were most valuable. I learned a great deal simply by doing the job from day to day. But, I also learned a great deal from many of my colleagues, especially then Principal Oboist, Mark Ackerman.
In April of 1988, I auditioned for solo English Horn in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and won that audition. Prior to the audition, I coached again with Grover in Chicago with the goal of further honing my skills. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Music Director André Previn offered me the job, as was Grover.
The rest is history. I am currently in my 34th season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and I still love to play the English Horn. I have never regretted my decision to focus on the English Horn primarily because I love the timbre of the alto range, the beautiful solos in the orchestral repertoire, as well as playing the inner voices with the violas and French horns. In addition, the independence of the chair suits my personality very well. I truly believe that it is the most gratifying job in the symphony orchestra. I was driven to excel, but I also spent significant time and effort studying with a real master of the instrument. I am forever indebted to the late Grover Schiltz - my mentor and dear friend.
Photograph of Carolyn Hove being offered the position of Solo English Horn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic by conductor, André Previn (1985-1989).
Photograph by David Weiss, principal oboe of the LA Phil (1973-2003).