Liang Wang. Photo by Chris Lee
Liang Wang, Idyllwild Arts (IA) alumnus and principal oboist with the New York Philharmonic, returns to Idyllwild for a reunion with the IA Academy Orchestra. As distinguished visiting faculty, Wang will perform as the featured soloist Mozart’s “Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra in C Major, K. 314.” The IA orchestra is under the direction of Peter Askim, IA music director and composer-in-residence.

Wang is making his first return to Idyllwild since his student days. Of his time at the academy, Wang said, “It was more than fantastic. The environment I felt was extremely friendly and highly individual. You do your own thing [in developing as an artist]. The teachers there lead you on how to think, not what to think.” When asked if this was different from what he had experienced in China, he said it was quite a change. Musical education in China is far more rigid. “America has the best system overall [for music education],” said Wang. “Europe is a bit more rigid, but America is the land of imagination and individualism.”

Wang noted that American educational emphasis on the individual influenced the development of his particular sound and musical voice. Oboists make their own reeds because, according to Wang, individual embouchures (shaping of the lip muscles to the instrument mouthpiece) and musical concepts are very different from player to player. “They’re very personal,” he said. “[An instrumentalist’s] sound can be markedly different [from another’s]. A beautiful sound is a complex thing — not only bright and dark, but with many differences in overtones and shading.”

A native of Qing Dao, China, Wang began oboe studies at the age of seven. At 13, he entered the Beijing Central Conservatory. At 15, he became a full scholarship student at Idyllwild Arts. In 2003, Wang completed his bachelor’s degree at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal oboist Richard Woodhams. In 2006 at the age of 26, Wang became the youngest principal oboist in the New York Philharmonic and the youngest principal the orchestra had ever hired.

As orchestral concert aficionados know, just prior to the beginning of a concert the oboist gives the tuning pitch A, from which all other instruments tune. The oboe provides that tuning note largely because its pitch is secure and it has a clear and penetrating voice. The oboist is also the de facto leader of the woodwind section of the orchestra.
Wang’s rise into the highest echelon of orchestral prominence has been astonishingly rapid. Orchestral auditions are highly competitive. And in the most important orchestras in the country, hundreds audition for a single chair. Prior to landing the Philharmonic position, Wang served as principal oboist with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, associate principal oboe with the San Francisco Symphony, and principal oboist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. While at Cincinnati, he landed a summer appointment at the Santa Fe Opera. During that same period, Wang was a finalist for both the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra — all this before turning 26.
Wang will offer coaching sessions when he is at IA and will also play with the Redlands Symphony in early 2012, reuniting with an oboe teacher from IA days. “I feel it is very important to give back,” said Wang.
The IA Academy Orchestra concert will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, in the IAF Theatre. The concert is free.
Marshall Smith can be reached at [email protected].