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‘The oboe is all about quirks’


ASO musician Renae Stavely, currently part of the orchestra’s Virtual Concert Hall – loves the oboe, despite its inherent temperamental nature. But you might be surprised by the non-classical music on high rotation in her home.

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From the time she started playing piano at the age of eight, Renae Stavely knew she wanted to be a musician. She began learning the oboe and went on to study at the University of Western Australia and the Vienna Conservatorium of Music in Austria.

She is now the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s associate principal oboe, and will mark her 20th anniversary with the orchestra next year.

Here, Renae shares some of her favourite pastimes – including baking Greek sweets – and her most-loved pieces of music.

How did you choose the oboe?

I played piano first. I wanted to attend a specialist music high school and needed to pick another instrument, and there was a poster of the oboe on the wall in my primary school music room. It looked interesting, so without ever having heard one, I picked it. When I did first get to hear it played, I loved it.

Is there anything special about your oboe?

The oboe is all about quirks – there’s the temperamental reed, for a start. Tying cane together and scraping until it vibrates, just right, is so tricky. Blowing air through a tiny opening that’s similar to the eye of a needle is hard work.

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose?

I would play the bassoon – it has a lovely rich sound.

Which solo or moment in the oboe orchestral repertoire is your favourite?

The oboe solo in Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, particularly when [Russian-born oboist] Eugene Izotov plays it.

Your most memorable performance with the ASO?  

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with conductor Olari Elts.

What is your first orchestral concert memory?

Playing the “Polovtsian Dances” (by Alexander Borodin) with my school orchestra when I was 13. It was just so exciting.

COVID-19 has put a pause on ASO concerts. What do you miss the most about not being able to perform?

When we play concerts, I feel alert and alive, with all my senses tingling. It feels special.

How have you stayed fit to play for when concerts resume?

I’m always practising scales. Not just for the fingers, but for making an even, controlled sound over the range of the oboe. Also, I’m always practising long notes. I’m also teaching some oboe students online, which is quite fun, so I always practise their repertoire.

When you’re not performing or practising, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love walking my dog, Louie, at the beach, followed by coffee for me and bacon for him! My three kids keep me pretty busy, too. And I like cooking Greek sweets – my galatoboureko [custard filo pie] is nearly as good as Yia Yia’s!

Renae with Louie the Cavoodle.

When not listening to classical music what do you listen to?

Greek music. My husband always has Greek music playing: I can tell my Zeimbekikos from my Tsamikos.

Name three pieces of music you love, and why.

Any Mozart, but my favourite is the Gran Partita.
“Pervolaria”, by Giannis Parios – it takes me to the Greek islands.
James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” – it captures longing so well.

Do you come from a musical family?

Not a musical family, but I believe my grandfather (who died before I was born) could play the piano by ear. I was the first one to get a chance to learn music.

Name three things people may not know about you.

  1. I follow Australian politics.
  2. I like getting up early before anyone else in my house to go for a walk, drink coffee, and read the paper.
  3. I love Wombat Wednesday… cute pictures of wombats on the ABC

What’s your idea of a perfect day in Adelaide? 

Henley Beach with the weather just right.

If you could ask one composer one question what would it be? 

I’d ask Sibelius if he could write an oboe concerto, please.

What piece of music never fails to move you?

Sibelius’ 5th Symphony.

What books are on your nightstand? 

Ben Folds’ A Dream about Lightning Bugs.

You can listen to Renae Stavely playing Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, Op. 49, I. Pan, IV. Bacchus & VI. Arethusa, in the ASO’s Virtual Concert Hall until July 29.


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