Philadelphia, PA – At the age of 19, Ben Price has embarked on a remarkable musical journey as a second-year oboist at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Holding the esteemed Anderson and Daria Pew Fellowship, Price has become an integral part of the Curtis music community. They contribute as a member of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, a soloist, and a chamber musician in the Curtis Student Recital Series.
Born and raised in Portland, Price’s musical foundation was laid under the guidance of mentors Karen Wagner and Dagny Rask Regan. Their musical prowess on the oboe extended to performances with renowned ensembles like Orpheus/PDX, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra USA (VSO), and as the principal oboist of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Additionally, Price earned the prestigious honor of being a three-time member of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, with a European tour in the summer of 2022.
Price’s talent and dedication have not gone unnoticed, with numerous competition wins, including the VSO, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and Oregon Sinfonietta. They have showcased their skills as a concerto soloist with these ensembles, and have also taken on guest principal oboist roles with Symphony in C, Pink Martini, and the MYSfits Chamber Orchestra.
Recently, Price graced the Field Concert Hall stage with a mesmerizing recital on October 20 (available for viewing on the Curtis YouTube channel at the 1:14 mark). The wider audience had the privilege of hearing them as a member of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra on October 22 at Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center. The event featured the esteemed conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera, directing excerpts from operas by Richard Strauss along with his Alpine Symphony.
In an exclusive interview with Oregon ArtsWatch, Ben Price shared insights into their musical journey:
Oregon ArtsWatch: What inspired you to take up the oboe?
Ben Price: My journey with music had a few false starts. I briefly dabbled with the violin when I was three, but my interest in the keychain around my violin teacher’s neck surpassed my fascination with the instrument. I began piano at the age of five, but the rigors of practice initially put me off. However, my real journey with the piano began at the age of eight. Throughout, I continued to study piano alongside the oboe for nearly a decade. Curtis also provides us with weekly piano lessons, so I still continue my piano studies. Yet, it became evident early on that the oboe was destined to be my primary instrument, especially after I encountered a recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra performing Scheherazade – that truly spoke to me.
It’s serendipitous to be at an institution where the distinctive Philadelphia style of music-making was born. This style is characterized by its vibrant sound, which resonates even in the driest of acoustic settings. It’s incredibly versatile, thanks in part to the unique challenges presented by Field Concert Hall and the nearby Academy of Music – two of the driest venues imaginable. The Curtis style of oboe playing evolved from the quest to produce beautiful sounds in these challenging spaces.
Verizon Hall is far more forgiving, with ample acoustic cushioning, which amplifies the sound. However, it presents its own set of challenges. In fact, there are very few acoustically perfect halls; you’re always adapting to the venue.
When I joined Curtis, I made a conscious decision not to limit myself to specific musical genres. I aspired to be flexible and versatile.
Oregon ArtsWatch: Who are your oboe mentors at Curtis?
Ben Price: In the oboe studio, we’re fortunate to have two exceptional teachers: Katherine Needleman and Philippe Tondre. Katherine, a Curtis graduate, is the principal oboist of the Baltimore Symphony, while Philippe holds the principal oboe position with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He received his training in Europe. Historically, there’s been a marked difference between American and European styles of oboe playing, and you can hear the distinction, including the reed-making techniques. It’s enlightening to experience both styles, allowing us to choose our own path.
Curtis holds a special place in the history of American oboe playing, primarily because of Marcel Tabuteau, who taught at Curtis and served as the principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His innovative ideas about phrasing and music-making, along with his teachings on wind instruments and chamber music, have had a profound influence on many.
I don’t place too much emphasis on one school of thought over the other. What matters most to me is whether it sounds good or not.
We’re also privileged to have the Imani Winds on the faculty at Curtis. Their presence is truly inspiring, as they are not only world-class performers but also remarkable mentors. They serve as shining examples of how to craft one’s own musical career.
Oregon ArtsWatch: I’ve heard that Curtis has a dedicated reed-making room for woodwinds.
Ben Price: Yes, Curtis provides us with a well-equipped room containing gouging machines, cane, and thread. The school owns these machines, which are quite expensive. Having a ready supply of cane is immensely helpful for us.
Oregon ArtsWatch: Could you walk us through a typical week in your life at Curtis?
Ben Price: Our weekly schedule consists of classes in musical studies and liberal arts, which provide a solid foundation in both music and general education. Currently, I’m enrolled in a course called “Art of the Earth,” exploring earthworks such as Stonehenge and the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake. It’s an exploration of these artworks’ significance. Curtis encourages us to be artist-citizens of the world, rather than just performers who play notes without deeper thoughts.
Musical studies cover an array of subjects, including music theory, analysis, counterpoint, solfège, keyboard studies, and music history. I find these subjects enjoyable and see their practical applications. Throughout the week, we have music lessons and studio classes, depending on our teachers’ availability. Orchestra rehearsals are interspersed randomly, and chamber music rehearsals and coachings can pop up unexpectedly. It keeps us busy, but I aim for a balanced workload.
I try to schedule my recitals at Field Concert Hall for Friday nights, as they are livestreamed and can be viewed on our YouTube channel.
Oregon ArtsWatch: What’s it like performing under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin?
Ben Price: Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. Yannick is an extraordinary conductor who makes music-making appear effortless. He exudes fluidity and musicality, shaping every note with an artistic gesture. His clarity and the certainty of his vision are truly remarkable. Yannick quickly delves into the core of a piece and brings it to life within the orchestra using remarkably few words. It’s incredibly impressive.
Oregon ArtsWatch: You’ll be mentoring Maggie Carter, a double bassist from PYP, who will begin her studies at Curtis next year. How do you feel about this role?
Ben Price: I’m genuinely looking forward to it!