Richard Woodhams, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s celebrated principal oboist for four decades, has decided to retire. Woodhams plans to play through the orchestra’s 2017-18 season, including summer concerts, and then step down, an orchestra spokeswoman said.
“I think I am still playing well and am in good health, and I think that’s the right time to do this sort of thing for me. It was pretty simple,” said Woodhams. “That’s basically my rationale. I’m 68 years old, and all good things must come to an end. When you play a piece of music, you want a nice beginning and a convincing ending. I just thought it was a good time to move on.”
That said, the decision was “difficult because I just think that the relationship with the conductor here [music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin] is very good, and the orchestra is playing in top form, and it’s a very pleasant environment to walk into and play. But I am very optimistic for the future of this orchestra. That’s an outlook that I choose to take.”
More than any other personnel change in the ensemble in recent years, this one promises to leave orchestra fans lamenting. Woodhams has been a reliably vivid, agile, and sweet presence on an instrument not always known for those qualities. He is also a link in an important musical lineage: He studied with John de Lancie, his predecessor in the post, and de Lancie had studied with his predecessor in the orchestra, Marcel Tabuteau.
“Woodhams is that rare orchestral gem, at once an ideal team player and yet able to stand out with distinction when called upon to take center stage,” wrote an Inquirer critic of a 1986 Mann Center performance of Bizet’s Symphony in C Major. “A meticulous, deeply musical player, he is surely among the finest oboists in the world.”
Born in Palo Alto, Calif., Woodhams won an audition to the Curtis Institute of Music at age 15 to study with de Lancie. He graduated from Curtis in 1968 and landed the principal spot in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1977 during Eugene Ormandy’s tenure as music director.
His departure creates a highly coveted opening. Resumés are being accepted through Nov. 21, with auditions slated for January, according to a job listing posted on the website of the musicians’ union.