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Philadelphia Orchestra signs a new principal oboist — an exceptionally rare occasion that’s big global news

French oboist Philippe Tondre will begin performing with the orchestra this summer in Vail and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Oboist Philippe Tondre
Oboist Philippe TondreRead morePhilippe Tondre

More than two years after star Philadelphia Orchestra principal oboist Richard Woodhams announced his retirement, the orchestra has signed his successor.

Philippe Tondre and the orchestra have penned a contract, the orchestra announced Wednesday. His official start date is Sept. 14, 2020, with the opening of the orchestra’s 2020-21 season, although the French oboist will also play with the orchestra this summer at its residencies in Vail and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Tondre, 30, won the audition for the job in October. He declined to comment, except to say that he was “very happy to be joining this wonderful orchestra.”

Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin also declined to speak about the appointment, but, in an email responding to questions, called Tondre a “true poet on his instrument, an artist of extraordinary expression and joy. I, and my colleagues on the audition committee, were captivated by his artistry, sound, and phrasing — he makes the instrument sing, and most importantly, has a great imagination.”

Neither Nézet-Séguin nor orchestra leaders would say whether Tondre would be subject to the usual one-year probationary period for new players. Asked how many weeks the oboist would play with the orchestra each year, Nézet-Séguin in his email said he “can’t speak to the specifics of any musician’s contract. But I can say it is in line with the other principal players of our orchestra, and I am very pleased to say that you will see and hear him very often on the stage!”

The choice of Tondre has drawn some criticism. In an open letter to Nézet-Séguin published in The Inquirer, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia founder Marc Mostovoy wrote that it “distresses me and many other musicians that you are considering engaging someone of a different school of playing, and not preserving the extraordinary tradition that has inspired us for so many years. I urge you to select a principal oboist of the same school of playing as that of the past.”

He noted that Woodhams — who joined the orchestra in 1977 and retired in 2018 — had been taught by John de Lancie, a student of the widely revered Marcel Tabuteau.

Of this stylistic issue, Nézet-Séguin wrote in his email that “Philippe has already shown us how well he fits with the orchestra.” Citing performances with the orchestra last October, the conductor said Tondre’s “artistry inspired me and all his colleagues during his weeks as guest principal."

Tondre has played principal oboe with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. He has also been guest principal oboist with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestre de Paris.

“I’m energized by how the orchestra both embraces our past and demonstrates a commitment to the future of the art form,” Nézet-Séguin wrote. “I know that Philippe and all of his immensely talented colleagues will play an important role in this work.”