David's interview with Shaunagh O'Neil


David Nuttall Interview

Thoughts on retirement … or not!

I’ve been playing the oboe for a long time now, it’s part of me. It’s not everything, but it is a major part of my makeup and I love it. I love classical music in all its forms, from as far back as you can go to contemporary music. I love it all, so to finish with Beethoven is not a bad way to say farewell. Beethoven Seven is hard work but it’s spectacular, and I’m sure the audience would have been all revved up. 

Caroline was very generous with her words for all of us retiring last week. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel finishing up my professional performances but as well as my hugely supportive orchestral colleagues, I have had a great support team who’ve kept me on the stage. I have had excellent masseurs and a fabulous physiotherapist and GP as do sports people who travel with an entourage. For instance, Ash Barty always talks about the team who look after her, not so much about winning or losing. There is an understanding in our orchestra that there are many behind-the-scenes people who help us to do our best when we perform. 

Dinah wrote the most gorgeous poem which she read at the after concert party for which I thank her.  We have worked so well together and for such a long time. I remember guesting here when Dinah was completing her probation. I couldn’t have wished for someone more supportive and easy to get along with. She such a good musician, a wonderful oboe player and a beautiful person. We’re a little team within the bigger team. We’ve had as good a time as you can have. I have also had a very long association with the orchestra. I can’t remember exactly when I first played but I know I played the Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto in both the Odeon and the Princess Theatres in 1984 and I’ve been full-time with the orchestra for 16 years.

Hobart is such a fabulous place to live and work. I came from Canberra, where I lived for 22 years. It’s a place similar in size, lots of lake water, but not water of the magnitude of the River Derwent, which is just across the road from where we work! And the people I have had the pleasure to work with they make the organisation. We’ve got an amazing bunch. Caroline has enhanced what was before, which was already good and now it’s even better. I have only praise for what’s going on in the TSO. Some exciting changes have come as a result of the pandemic though some orchestras haven’t been able to rise the challenge. You can say, “this is too hard” or you can say, “actually, this is really hard but we’ll do something about it” and now that places us in a much better position than many other orchestras in the country. Everyone has contributed in their own way, it doesn’t have to be the same contribution, but people have been prepared to give it a go.

What are some musical highlights from your time at the TSO?

Every time I go on stage is a highlight for me and especially with Eivind. He is one of the finest musicians I’ve had the pleasure to work with and he is an incredible conductor. Eivind conducts shape, his rhythm is impeccable, and he’s compelling, you can’t ignore what he’s trying to say. Not since I’ve worked with Franz Brüggen have I seen anyone at that level of engagement. You know he’s conducting what’s going on at the time on the stage with a plan and staying in the moment. He’s inspiring and he truly believes in what he’s doing. It’s researched, thought through, he has felt the phrases. That’s the best kind of music-making, when something special happens on stage, and you get brought along with it, because you know you’re part of it. It’s incredibly rewarding having that connection between the players and the conductor.

We’ve had wonderful soloists as well. Nina Stemme was amazing. I haven’t heard live singing of that calibre, that musicianship, technique, beauty and stamina since I heard Jessye Norman live. That was phenomenal and with John Lundgren too, just fabulous. Marko Letonja was incredible to work with as well.

What are you looking forward to in the next phase?

I’m looking forward to less consistent pressure. When you play any instrument at a high level, there’s a lot of pressure, physical and mental. That doesn’t mean I won’t play the oboe as I have no intention of selling my instruments. I will enjoy not always having to have one or more reeds around that I can manage. The perfect reed has not been made yet or it might be perfect for 5, 10, 20 minutes in a concert. Usually, it’s about managing your reed. When Heinz Holliger (one of the greatest musicians and practitioners of the oboe the world has ever seen) was on tour in Australia, he said, what sort of idiot must I be to trust my entire reputation to two little bits of grass tied onto a little brass tube. It’s nuts! It’s true! Grass is organic, it changes with the humidity.

Caroline said to me at one point she couldn’t understand why, when classical musicians retire, we often don’t see or hear from them again. Not specifically in relation to me, she’s had been thinking about these retiring musicians – where all that skill and experience is potentially lost to the company.  Of course, for people who simply want to stop, that’s ok. So we are chatting about ways I can remain associated with the orchestra. I’d really like to be a mentor through TSO. I suppose you might say this will be a new venture for the organisation.

I’m looking forward to finding a way to contribute to mentoring young instrumentalists which is essentially what I did in Canberra. I’ve been playing the oboe for 52 years. It’s physically demanding but I do like to help younger people achieve their goals. I’m not fond of the word teaching – it’s not a matter of putting something from you into someone else’s head. I don’t feel that covers what good teaching should be. Good teaching can only be said to have taken place when genuine learning has occurred. I see myself more as a facilitator of good learning. 

I came here in 2005. I was fortunate to get the job and I have done my best to make most of it.  I’ve got all this history however, and I’ve been teaching since I was a teenager. I read about it and I understand a lot more about it. We understand so much more now about how the brain works – so giving people information about how we learn is really helpful.  I’m friends with most of my former students. I love them all and they’re an incredible bunch of people. Some of them have positions in orchestras around the country – MSO, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, ASO and OV. I’m not claiming responsibility in any way for the greatness of their achievements, but I have played a part, sometimes big, sometimes small and occasionally I might have said just the right thing at the right time. I don’t mind if they give up the oboe or keep playing. I’m more interested in helping them find their own pathway, whether it’s contemporary music, or no music, not performing – I’m equally proud of them. It’s encouraging people to learn how to learn, that opens doorways to things they might not have seen, and then they’re not as fearful of failing. I will help them achieve whatever they want to achieve. 

We run excellent programs for up-and-coming composers and conductors. I think with thoughtful talking with supporters, we could find some funding for a program of advanced learning for up-and-coming instrumental players. For instance a one-year program for a wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn), could provide casual players for the orchestra and they could do some work in schools and small concerts around the State. That’s an area in which I’d like to contribute. I was a member of a wind quintet for 22 years and there aren’t that many which survived so long on a professional basis. There are all sorts of possibilities! It’s planting seeds that could develop over the next 5-10 years, and would give people preparing for ANAM, for example, a great deal of valuable experience. 

There is a sense here that the “management” (board, senior team and so forth) supports us and vice versa, and that is really great! In a successful organisation there should never be a feeling of “us and them”. That’s one of the things that Caroline is very good at conveying. She’s such a good thinker. Caroline is certainly one of the best communicators I’ve have met. Covid notwithstanding, I feel certain she would have embarked on a very similar consultative process – our TSO cathedral building. I’m sure. 

I was involved in this year’s Community Rehearsal and I’m looking forward to being involved in next year’s.  We are also talking about conducting tutorials in the North and North West of the state.

What will you miss the most?

Probably seeing all of my TSO friends on a more regular basis, and that “on stage” teamwork. I love sport and people talk a lot about the teamwork there, but that’s nothing compared to the teamwork we have as an orchestra of which an audience is often not aware and certainly not the complexity of how we work together and how we make it look so enjoyable and effortless at the same time.


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