Diana Doherty in The Age

Dancing oboist bears her sole
Robin Usher, The Age
April 16, 2012

Diana Doherty moves to the music as she plays so a composer wrote a ‘dance’ piece for her.

Diana Doherty has a reputation for exuberance that is unusual for someone whose role as principal oboist with the Sydney Symphony requires her to play in unison with about 80 other musicians.

“I am known as the oboist who dances, which is a little odd,” she says. “But I have always tended to move when I play.”

Her reputation was enhanced when Ross Edwards composed the oboe concerto Bird Spirit Dreaming for her, which required her to dance barefoot through the orchestra as the lights came up for her to begin playing.

“It was a new challenge that I enjoyed doing at the time.” She performed it in America as a guest of the New York Philharmonic’s chief conductor, Lorin Maazel, in 2005.

The piece has developed a life of its own away from her performance. It has been performed by other oboists and rearranged for saxophone. “Ross’ vision allows it to stand on its own away from the theatrical presentation,” she says. “More and more composers are finding ways to entertain audiences with many senses at once. That’s what people are used to and it can lead to pressure to step outside the box.”

Doherty is preparing for a rare assignment away from the SSO, joining Canada’s acclaimed St Lawrence String Quartet for a national Musica Viva tour later this month playing Mozart’s oboe quartet and Matthew Hindson’s Rush for oboe and string quartet.

She is quick to say she is not feeling any pressure, adding that she will be sitting with the other musicians during the performance. “I don’t want to get people’s hopes up about dancing with bare feet,” she laughs.

She finds it rewarding to play away from the orchestra. “Musicians need opportunities to develop their skills and take something back to the orchestra,” she says.

“It is quite different playing chamber music. There is no conductor to impose an interpretation on the music, which makes us all responsible for the outcome.”

She says orchestral musicians are unusual in staying in their jobs for a long time. “That is not very common any more and it means we have to take every chance to stretch ourselves.”

Doherty first performed the 10-minute Rush that will end the concert on a national tour with Britain’s Belcea Quartet 10 years ago and she says it has a rock-music influence in its rhythms and drive.

“It can be tricky to put together because it begins with complex rhythms that are layered on top of each other,” she says. “There is a long wait before my opening note.”

She says it is no longer considered unusual programming because musicians are always listening to many different sorts of music. “I have known the St Lawrence players for a long time and that is pretty normal these days.”

The quartet was formed in 1989 and achieved international prominence when it won the Banff international competition three years later. For the past 14 years it has been based at Stanford University near San Francisco.

The group will also play music by Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak on the tour, which Doherty says has been planned for more than two years.

“It is impossible for me to travel very often because the SSO tours overseas every year,” she says. “It is going to China in November when my eldest daughter will be doing her HSC so this year’s program has needed a lot of planning.”

She and her husband, Alexandre Oguey who also plays with the SSO, met when they were postgraduate students in Zurich. They have two daughters, who they took on the orchestra’s 2010 European tour.

“The orchestra understands because so many of the players have families.”

Both she and her husband are going to China. Doherty stayed home from last year’s tour to Japan and South Korea to be with her daughters.

“Everybody knows what’s involved but you have to be mindful of the orchestra’s schedule all the time,” she says.


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