Sunday, October 28

Canadian oboist in New-York, part 1. (Laubin)

(Mes excuses de ne pas avoir inclus une version française, mais l’article est trop long et je suis trop fatigué pour le traduire. Le sujet principal de l’article, le hautbois Paul Laubin, mérite d’être exposé le plus tôt possible après mon voyage à New-York et le plus complètement possible.)

Pictures of the Laubin Establishment and personnel are by Laurence Bartone were taken from his website
Great American Artisans (please visit by clicking here  Pointing up).

As you can see in these posts (click title to visit):

for the past couple of years, even before this blog began, I have been seeking opportunities to try oboes of different manufacturers, especially those that are more difficult to get in Canada.

For all kinds of reasons, I was unable to go to the IDRS conferences or visit New York when Ludwig Frank or Marigaux paid a visit. So when my wife was invited to an exclusive photography event in New York City, it made perfect sense to go with her and try to visit the providers of the world's best instruments and when we found a hotel that allows us to bring our dogs, it became a no-brainer to drive over! In fact, driving ended-up costing much less than tickets for air travel or train; that’s apart from the cost of boarding the dogs at a kennel and the sadness of being separated from them.

robinDesHautboisGrandCentralStationRoad from Ottawa to Manhattan:

Typically, driving from Ottawa to Manhattan is approximately 8 hours, but having brought the dogs with us, it was necessary to stop every couple of hours for them to relieve themselves and also move their legs: otherwise, their discomfort can be extreme to the point of cruelty. Besides, with my problems of chronic pain, sitting for long time spans hurts my back considerably, and that’s apart from the natural strains from speed and road manoeuvres.

Entering New-York after dark and after nearly 10 hours of driving was frightening. We missed the exit for the Lincoln tunnel and ended up in a couple of shady gas stations near an enormous sports stadium (the Yankee stadium?). Luckily, the station attendants were very kind and helpful and provided trustworthy alternate routes to get to our hotel.

Thus began our 1st adventure in New-York: my wife as a pro. photographer and myself, obsessed with the oboe. I was most fortunate to be able to visit Laubin inc. and Innoledy (visit here ), who imports some outstanding instruments. For this post, I only have the energy left over to describe my visit to Laubin. I will give account of my visit to Innoledy next time.

oboeEHThe Laubin oboe

About years ago, I got my Lorée rejuvenated by David Teitelbaum, finisher at A. Laubin inc. (Pointing up). His work was simply miraculous, significantly improving the sound, responsiveness and stability of my instrument. Ever since, I have been ravenous to get information, or better yet, the chance to play on a real Laubin instrument.

Rolland Dupin is well established as one of the world 's most exclusive oboe makers, but even Dupin's waiting list is only 2 years at worst.... Paul Laubin has people waiting for up to 10 years for his (15 years for English Horns) - even though new Laubin oboes are possibly the most expensive in the world! (Yes, my name is on the list!) Some of North-America’s greatest musicians, and also in other parts of the world, including Liang Wang and Thomas Stacey (both currently at the NY Philharmonic Orchestra) choose Laubin.

Glorious moments with Laubin:

You might remember the 1980’s, when Charles Dutoit took over the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) and gave it international stardom: their recordings of Ravel’s Bolero and other impressionist repertoire gave the OSM a popularity that dared to rival Berlin under Karajan! No kidding, records were being sold worldwide and invitations by the most prestigious concert halls had the OSM touring the whole world with rave reviews from the sternest critics.

Ted Baskin (Laubin Oboe) with OSM

Theodore (Ted) Baskin was the principal oboe at the time and he played a Laubin oboe. His performance of Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel revolutionized the sound concept for oboes in Montréal, the whole province of Québec and possibly much of eastern North-America. In fact, shortly after and for a few years to come, the World Youth Orchestra would typically have 2 or 3 out of 4 oboes coming from Québec! Such was the impact of a Laubin oboe played by a musician who could do it justice in an orchestra from “back home”!

Trying the Laubin oboe

Such a coveted manufacturer would be well justified to close his doors to all except prestigious professionals: a simple amateur and washed-out musician like myself doesn’t have much to offer. But instead, they welcomed my visit and even went out of their way to make things as easy as possible for me. In fact, they even lent me one of their reeds (the only American scrape I ever had that actually crowed correctly!) so I could better understand the dynamic design for their instrument.

Because my wife and I did not know New York at all, I walked with her to her workshop in the morning... then I realized I did not know how to get to Laubin’s place, even though they had sent instructions for the train! After asking people – New Yorkers are very kind and helpful – I found my way to Penn station and the subway lines: very big, very complex, very crowded and somewhat intimidating.... the Montréal Metro (subway) is a country park in comparison!

After a few easy subway cars and a 90 minute train ride, I found my way to Peekskill, N.Y., where Laubin has his shop. Then, only a short walk uphill to his place: but after all that travelling and mental stress in 2 days, by the time I sat down to soak my reeds, I was exhausted! New-York was unusually warm and humid, due to an approaching tropical storm: that made my reeds terribly open, with a poor crow. Squeezing the blades only helped a little bit. A lot of warming-up would have helped, but time was short and travel fatigue really inhibited control of my embouchure.

wholeShopWhen I got there, I found them all completely devoted to their meticulous work, leaving me to test the instruments in a part of the workshop with a bench and chair laid out for visitors. Laubin’s workshop is a simple place that shows love for the art and craft of making quality instruments above all else. When I was done, we had a very pleasant chat about the state of oboes now, their evolution over the past generation and the musicians we knew in common.

I was allowed to try an oboe that was literally 1 day old Hot smile and given more time with another from around 1990, overhauled to be sold on consignment. I was even allowed to play on one of the rarest in the modern oboe family: a Laubin oboe d’amore!

  • The overhauled instrument was fully as good as the new: a testament to Laubin’s standards and workmanship, no difference was to be found with the new!
  • This instrument is ALIVE:
    • The “living” quality of the instrument is hard to explain if you have not experienced it, but this one really left an impact on me.
    • Absolutely perfect tuning with NO lip-work involved: I am so used to compensating for flaws with embouchure and special fingerings, that this preference for relaxation caught me off guard!
  • Made for the American reed & playing style, nonetheless full dynamic range: even with my reeds, I could play as softly or as loudly as I wanted.
  • Happy curiosity: they explained to me that the bore is smaller than in my Lorée. I would have expected it, as a result, to resist to my air pressure more. Instead, I found it to fully accept my blowing and there was no sign congestion in any notes, anywhere!
  • The bell looks different than most others: it almost looks like it has a little bulge in the middle. In any case, it lets the lowest notes speak as smoothly as whipped buttermilk!
  • It has no 3rd octave key, and it does not need one! The altissimo register is on par with, or better than, all other instruments I have tried to this date.
  • One word: comfort!
    • The keywork is designed by and for small hands, but it is fully suited to my large, square Polish hands.
    • The keywork is surely the most responsive and ergonomically well organized of any brand I have ever tried.
    • I was specially struck by the auxiliary C (banana) key which is easy to find with short fingers and still out of the way.
    • The left-hand little-finger keys require little movement and work wonderfully.
  • Oboe d'amore: WOW!
    • Don't even enquire about ordering one: there are only 3 in existence! One of which is owned by Thomas Stacey of the New-York Philharmonic.
    • My own experience consists of only a few Lorée, a Buffet and a Fox English Horn as well as one Lorée d'amore. The Laubin d'amore (built by Paul himself) yields a more open, radiant and rich tone than any instrument I have ever played before except one antique Italian EH with a Triébert key system. The antique EH and Laubin’s d’amore were on par in terms of large and living tone qualities: apparently rare in the instrument market over here.

Who should buy a Laubin oboe?

This is a rough question. Alfred Laubin started making oboes in the 1930’s because quality oboes were practically unavailable in North-America at the time. This started a wave of demand by professionals who demand exquisite care to detail and striving for perfection in terms of an oboe for the American tradition, which touches and inspires musicians on all continents. This demand continues to this day: Paul Laubin takes his father’s concerns to heart, as does his assistant, David Teitelbaum.

Because there are so few of these instruments, and because they truly deserve to be heard in public, they might be best left to professionals who have the experience, skill and taste to appreciate them to the full extent of their worth. On top of allowing the oboist to "blend" in the orchestra, they also afford full power and expressive dynamics with mechanics that aid virtuosic technique rather than require it. But because they are so easy to play, I would like to see more of them in the hands of promising students: perhaps this would increase pressure on other prolific companies to improve on some the well known flaws for which fingering tricks are devised and reeds are blamed. If you are an amateur or student, try finding a used Laubin and having it rejuvenated by David Teitelbaum at (visit here Pointing up): easily worth the expense, I am confident beyond any doubt you will be fully happy you did!

David Teitelbaum
Paul Laubin
Alex Laubin

Pictures of the Laubin Establishment and personnel are by Laurence Bartone were taken from his website
Great American Artisans (please visit by clicking here Pointing up ).

Thursday, October 11

Hautbois Montréal Oboes !

Real life creeping-in...

It has been a very long time since my last post: my “day-job” has been taking much more time than normal... this is fine, just part of being a professional. But that means that, after taking care of the house and dogs, I only have enough time for a few notes, certainly no reed making and no recording takes.

La vraie-vie, quoi!
Ça fait très longtemps depuis mon dernier article blog: mon vrai boulot prend beaucoup plus de temps que la normale… bien beau, simplement la vie de professionnel. Mais ça veut dire qu’après m’avoir occupé de la maison et des chiens, il ne me reste qu’assez de temps pour quelques notes, certainement pas de fabrication d’anches ni d’enregistrement.

Break for the mind and soul...
So for Canadian Thanksgiving, I decided to go visit my Parents and Sister, stopping by Montréal along the way to go try every professional grade oboe I could find in store!

For the sake of comparison, you can find my previous oboe tests here(Pointing up) and here(Pointing up).

Pause santé-mentale!
Alors, pour l’Action de Grâces, je suis allé visiter mes parents et ma sœur, passant par Montréal pour y essayer tous les hautbois professionnels en magasin!

Afin de comparer, vous pouvez trouver mes tests précédents ici(Pointing up) et ici(Pointing up).

Hautbois Montréal Véraquin (Oct. 2012)

I was able to try some instruments at two fine stores: Pascal Véraquin Instruments and Twigg Musique, both fine institutions offering excellent service to their specific clienteles.

My reeds...
Having made almost no reeds in a year, you can imagine the 7 oboe reeds I brought were rather wimpy. When I tried them 1 and 2 days before in Ottawa, they were all bad, but when I got to Montréal, they all played well!..... I did soak them well and kept them wet during the whole drive (3 hours due to construction). Also, as soon as I arrived on the island, I was struck with chills to the bone from the humidity... so climate surely played a part there.

J’ai pu essayer des instruments à deux établissements : Pascal Véraquin Instruments et Twigg Musique, deux fines institutions qui offrent un service excellent à leurs clientèles spécifiques.

Mes anches :
N’ayant pas fait d’anches depuis un an, vous pouvez imaginer que les 7 anches de hautbois que j’ai apportées étaient assez faibles. Quand je les ai essayés 1 et 2 jours avant, toutes étaient mauvaises, mais rendu à Montréal, toutes jouaient bien! Je les ai trempées beaucoup avant de partir et les ai gardé mouillées pendant tout le voyage (3 heures en raison de la construction). Aussitôt arrivé dans l’île, je fus pris de frissons par l’humidité… alors le climat y est pour de quoi!

Hautbois Montréal Twigg (oct 2012)

The Instruments...

  • Lorée Royal
    • Characteristic but splendid sound.
    • Massive body, yet comfortable to hold.
    • Fully free-blowing, no stuffy notes, but still typical unstable notes.
  • Lorée AK
    • Improved sound and free-blowing, compared to base model.
    • Still some stiff notes.
    • Typical unstable notes.
  • Lorée, base model synthetic top joint.
    • Very well seated sound.
    • Generally good tuning.
    • Typical congested and unstable notes.

Les instruments :

  • Lorée Royal
    • Sonorité caractéristique mais splendide.
    • Corps massif et pesant, mais confortable.
    • Aucune note congestionnée, mais notes instables typiques.
  • Lorée AK
    • Souffle et sonorités améliorés comparativement au modèle de base.
    • Toujours quelques notes congestionnées.
    • Toujours les mêmes notes instables.
  • Lorée de base, haut synthétique
    • Sonorité bien assise.
    • Justesse généralement bonne.
    • Notes instables et notes congestionnées typiques.
  • Old looking used Marigaux 901
    • Crack at the 3rd octave key with 2 or 3 pins.
    • Pads seal perfectly, but very old and worn.
    • Tenon corks dry and loose.
    • Mechanics are old and bent, but but fully functional and well adjusted, despite looseness.
    • Excellent ergonomics of the pinky keys.
    • Different sound, hard to explain : at first, brighter, it shows more liveliness and versatility.
    • All reeds produce different sounds.
      Impeccable tuning and stability: correctly inserted or not , all reeds play well.
    • It was the best for my very wide reed (oboe d’amore shape).
    • Resonance and dynamic range without restriction : all reeds speak well and sing.
    • No congestion anywhere.
  • Marigaux 901 usagé d'apparence vieille
    • Fendu 3e clef d'octave réparé avec 2-3 vis.
    • Tampons bouchent parfaitement, mais très vieux et usés.
    • Lièges de tenons secs et mal serrés.
    • Mécanique (clétage) fonctionnel et bien ajustée, mais plié et montrant beaucoup de jeu (loose).
    • Excellente ergonomie des palmes (petits doigts).
    • Sonorité nasillarde (âge et ajustement ?), mais polyvalente : les différentes anches produisent des sons différents.
    • Justesse et stabilité impeccables : toute anche, bien ou mal insérée y joue bien.
    • C’était le meilleur pour jouer mon anche très large (taille de hautbois d’amour) : aucun problème avec l’intonation.
    • Résonance et nuance sans restreinte : encore, toute anche chante bien dedans.
    • Aucune congestion des notes.
  • Buffet Crampon
    • Different way to blow: short-tube notes (A-B-C etc.) need the throat to be just as open as any low note.
    • Whatever the reed, it wants to sound the same (after a few minutes of playing).
    • Excellent altissimo, except for the D.
      Out of the factory, the keywork is very loose: can really benefit from serious adjustment.
    • Generally very good tuning and stability, but it does not like complex fingerings (more than trills) which would facilitate certain passages, especially in impressionist tunes.
  • Buffet Crampon English Horn
    • Tends to sound congested, but my reeds were perhaps at fault: they are all widest shape.
    • EH reeds sound buzzy but an oboe d'amore reed gave it a huge sound.
  • Buffet Crampon
    • Souffle différent : les notes à tube court (la-si-do etc.) demandent une gorge aussi ouverte que les notes longues (fa-mi-ré etc).
    • Quelque-soit l’anche, semble vouloir sonner pareil (après quelques minutes de jeu).
    • Excellent sur-aigü, sauf pour le ré.
      Mécanique avec moins de souci d’ajustement.
    • Justesse et stabilité généralement très bonne, mais n’aime pas les doigtés étranges (plus complexes que les trilles) qui facilitent certains passages, surtout dans l’impressionnisme.
  • Cor Anglais Buffet Crampon
    • Tendances à la congestion, mais mes anches souffraient peut-être : elles utilisent les tailles les plus larges.
    • Les anches de CA donnaient une sonorité nasillarde et faible, mais une anche de hautbois d'amour a vraiment enrichi le timbre.
  • 3 Yamaha Duet+: 1 ebony and 2 rosewood:
    • Strangeley, the 2 rosewood did not play the same: one would blow and sound much more freely than the other.
    • The ebony one played like the stiffer one, but both rosewoods had a definite richer sound.
    • Tuning and stability fully dependable.
    • Not so good with very complex fingerings.
    • Little-finger ergonomics reminiscent of the Marigaux and Strasser.
  • 3 Yamahas Duet+ dont un en ébène et 2 en bois de rose :
    • Étrangement les 2 en bois de rose ne jouent pas pareil : l'un souffle plus librement que l'autre.
    • Celui en bois d'ébène joue comme l’autre moins libre, mais les deux bois de rose offre une sonorité nettement plus riche.
    • Justesse et stabilité très fiables.
    • Pas si bon pour les doigtés très complexes.
    • Ergonomie des clefs semblables au Marigaux et Strasser.


  • To keep reeds alive, play them every day.
  • My own Lorée (reconditioned by D. Teitelbaum from Laubin) is much better than I give it credit: a special instrument.
  • Lorée is a top professional grade instrument... that needs professionals to play it right.
  • Don't rely on brand and model, you have to try the instrument: it's striking how different instruments of the same model can play differently.

Conclusion :

  • Pour garder ses anches vivantes, il faut les jouer plusieurs jours de fil.
  • Mon propre Lorée (reconditionné par D. Teitelbaum de la maison Laubin) est beaucoup mieux que je le croyais : c’est un instrument très spécial.
  • Lorée est un instrument professionnel de haut calibre... mais il faut être un professionnel pour le jouer correctement.
  • Ne vous fiez pas à la marque ni au modèle, il faut essayer : c'est frappant à quel point les instruments individuels d'un même modèle peuvent varier.

My Picks:

  • The old Marigaux 901 is really worth an overhaul: it would faithfully serve a pro. who seeks freedom and versatility in sound and expression. The reputation enjoyed by Marigaux (that any reed plays well in it) is justified up to now. Seeing as I want to play on wide reeds, this instrument is very interesting.
  • For a student, an amateur or a pro. who seeks consistency, the Yamaha is a really good choice. The rosewood really gives it charm. Flimsy keywork, but with great tuning, stability and sound, who cares?

Mes favoris :

  • Le vieux Marigaux 901 vaut vraiment la peine d'être remis à neuf : il servirait très fidèlement à un professionnel qui cherche la liberté et la polyvalence dans le son et l'expressivité. La réputation de Marigaux qui dit que n'importe-quelle anche joue bien semble bien méritée jusqu'à date. Puisque je cherche à jouer sur des anches très larges, cet instrument est fort intéressant.
  • Pour un étudiant, un amateur ou un professionnel qui cherche surtout la constance,  le Yamaha est bien choisi. Le bois de rose y donne vraiment un charme. Mécanique feluette, mais pas grave quand la justesse et stabilité y sont si bonnes…

Almost, but not quite...

  • I really liked the Royal, but I don't have time and energy to compensate for the instability anymore.
  • The Buffet Crampon is excellent and dependable, but blowing it is just too different from what I am used to.

Presque, mais pas tout-à-fait...

  • J'aime beaucoup le Royal, mais je n'ai plus le temps à consacrer à compenser pour son instabilité.
  • Le Buffet Crampon est excellent et fiable, mais la manière de le souffler est trop différent de mes habitudes.