A new principal oboist for the Philadelphia Orchestra? Nathan Hughes emerges as sole finalist

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Oboist Nathan Hughes

The Philadelphia Orchestra has settled on a finalist for its coveted principal oboist job, and he has been invited to play tryouts in upcoming concerts.

Nathan Hughes, a principal oboist with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, has not been offered the job, much less signed a contract, but he has emerged as the only finalist after several days of auditions.

The hiring process isn’t concluded, said orchestra spokeswoman Ashley Berke. In fact, Hughes might not end up in Philadelphia, but in Chicago, where the oboist says he is also expecting to play tryout concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that have yet to be scheduled.

“It’s hard to say what will happen. I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Hughes said Sunday, a day after his final audition in Philadelphia. “These are amazing orchestras, and the process isn’t over until everything is decided. Having us play in the orchestra is a great way to find out what musicians are like. It’s different from the audition, where you are hearing them alone, mostly.”

Principal oboe is one of the most prominent jobs in the orchestra, and since 1977 the spot has been occupied in Philadelphia by the highly regarded Richard Woodhams, who has announced his intention to retire at the end of this season. The clear, penetrating sound of the instrument often makes it a favorite for composers to call upon for solo lines, and it is the oboe that gives the “A” to which the ensemble tunes.

Hughes is notable because he was not a Woodhams student and did not train at the Curtis Institute of Music – though he did study with John de Lancie, Woodhams’ teacher at Curtis, for four summers at the Aspen Music Festival and School. A graduate of the Juilliard School and Cleveland Institute of Music, Hughes teaches at Juilliard and was previously principal oboist of the Seattle Symphony. Local audiences might have heard him play the Dutilleux Oboe Sonata in May at a Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert or at an earlier PCMS concert of wind players from the Met.

When Hughes will try out with the Philadelphia Orchestra isn’t set, though presumably it would happen during weeks conducted by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who should already be familiar with the oboist’s playing. He is music director-designate of the Metropolitan Opera.