9 Jul 2019

Kiwi star Thomas Hutchinson makes his oboe sing

From Upbeat, 1:14 pm on 9 July 2019

To make his instrument really sing, Thomas Hutchinson draws inspiration from his favourite opera stars. He loves the phenomenal Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, German Lieder legend Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and the ravishing tenor voice of Fritz Wunderlich.

Thomas Hutchinson & Douglas Mews in rehearsal

Thomas Hutchinson & Douglas Mews in rehearsal Photo: RNZ/Clarissa Dunn

In his precious downtime Thomas enjoys cooking.

“Just standing there chopping onions can take your mind off any musical pressures”.

Dream guests at an imaginary dinner party would include Bernstein and Mozart. Bernstein “seems like a good time…and he was one of those people who wasn’t just a musician - he was music.” After reading Mozart’s letters Thomas reckons the Austrian Wunderkind would also be a hoot. And to fit in with two charismatic and entertaining men, he’d also invite one of his favourite rock stars, Freddie Mercury.

When asked about introducing people his own age to classical music Thomas suggests starting with something sharp and punchy –  maybe John Adam’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

“A lot of people have the idea that classical music is going to be this sort of very relaxing, soothing Chopin nocturne at the end of a day and that sort of thing, but really…it’s everything in life.”

If you’re after relaxing music, then listening to Thomas play Bach may be your cup of tea. It’s a salve for the soul. His tone is bewitching and transporting. He was a guest artist at Adam Chamber Music Festival 2019 and appeared in the popular Bach by Candlelight concert in Nelson's Christ Church Cathedral.

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Thomas plays an oboe made especially for him by a small family manufacturer in Luxembourg. Roland Dupin is known as the the 'Stradivari of oboes’.

“It’s quite a beautiful thing to see a small business thriving like that because in the workshop still now you only see the grandfather Roland Dupin, his son Christophe who does most of the work on the instruments and his son Vincent who is actually apprenticing there who’s (I think) just 18 years old.”

Thomas has been playing his Dupin oboe for over a year now and he’s very happy with it. Listen to him playing the Dupin oboe in Antal Doráti’s Three Pieces for Oboe Solo.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Oboist Thomas Hutchinson

Oboist Thomas Hutchinson Photo: Daniel Delang

Thomas was a winner of the prestigious 66th ARD competition in Munich in 2017 – and the first New Zealander to win in the competition’s 66-year history. This stellar young musician is recognised as one of the most exciting musicians of his generation.

He’s just returned to his job as Associate Principal Oboe at Melbourne Symphony Orchestra following a 6-month sabbatical. Thomas spent most of this time in Berlin taking lessons with Jonathan Kelly, Principal Oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as soaking up the city’s rich cultural life.

Overseas several orchestras invited him to perform as guest Principal Oboe including the Hannover Staatsoper and Stavanger Symphony in Norway. And he capped off his 6 months with a chamber music tour of Germany with other ARD prize winners.

“We had 14 concerts in 18 days in 12 cities - we were all exhausted by the end of it! An incredible experience though - some of those small towns we visited have incredible chamber music halls. Playing the Mozart Oboe Quartet in Schwetzingen in the same hall Mozart once played in was particularly surreal.”

Oboist Thomas Hutchinson plays Mozart in Schwetzingen

Oboist Thomas Hutchinson plays Mozart in Schwetzingen Photo: Elmar Witt

Thomas was born into a musical Auckland family. His grandfather Percy Smallfield taught him to play piano from the age of five. When he was nine years old Thomas fell in love with the oboe by listening to recordings of British oboist Gordon Hunt.

Thomas never made a conscious decision to become a musician because it was simply the only path he ever saw in front of him. He began his oboe studies in Auckland and continued in Melbourne before moving to France. He describes his time at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris as “incredible - there’s no better place to learn oboe in the world”.

Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse, Paris

Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse, Paris Photo: Fred Romero Flickr.com

Studying at such a prestigious and traditional environment wasn’t without its stresses. All lessons were held in front of the whole class.

“There’s a lot to gain from practising and performing in front of all your peers. It trains you to really cope with all the nerves…you also learn so much from watching the other students as well especially early on. When I was in first year I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I could hear people that were playing with the London Symphony Orchestra or other orchestras and they’d be commuting for their lessons. So to hear all these incredible people who were already in the professional world was really good.”

Now he’s a working professional and the biggest lesson he’s learned is consistency.

 “When you’re a student you can afford to have a bad day or a bad week. It happens to everyone, especially as a student, but when you’re in professional life it has to be there 100% of the time.”

In September Thomas will perform Strauss' Oboe Concerto with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey.

Benjamin Northey

Benjamin Northey Photo: Matt Irwin