Nicola Lisle talks to world-famous oboist Nicholas Daniel about his forthcoming recital in Oxford with pianist Charles Owen

Sometimes Granny knows best, and that was certainly the case with Nicholas Daniel. It was his granny who inspired him to take up the oboe at the age of ten, and he has gone on to become one of the world’s leading oboists.

“My granny said, ‘The boy must play the oboe’,” Nicholas recalls. “My mum said, ‘What’s an oboe?’. I was playing the piano already and singing in the local church choir. For some reason I took to it and passed my Grade 8 exam within 18 months.”

He went on to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year award when he was 18, and he remains the only person to have won the competition playing the oboe. He has since become something of an ambassador for the instrument, inspiring the creation of new works for the oboe repertoire by leading composers, and was recently awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music.

It was while playing at the Oxford Chamber Music Festival a few years ago that Nicholas met pianist Charles Owen. The two quickly bonded, and have enjoyed a strong and enduring partnership ever since.

“Our rehearsals are notable for intense concentration and rigour, and vast outbursts of laughter and quotes from Absolutely Fabulous or Cath and Kim,” chuckles Nicholas. “It’s fair to say that Charles and I are now family.”

They are also a dazzling duo on the concert platform – as Oxford audiences are about to find out. The pair will be at the JDP on 29th April (not the Sheldonian as originally advertised), with a varied programme of music that reflects themes of faith, romance, courage and hope.

“Charles and I have put together a programme of pieces that we adore playing, and they are all important to us for different reasons,” Nicholas explains.

“There are two Bach sonatas that were written one after the other but are very different, and they start each half. We chose Bach because there’s nothing greater or more relevant to our world and its states of beauty and danger.

“Schumann’s only major original piece for oboe and piano is one of the most striking works in the whole repertoire. The oboe plays almost constantly, the intensity is great and if it’s about romance and love it’s clearly challenged in those respects.”

By way of contrast, there is the Suite for Oboe and Piano by the Czech Jewish composer Pavel Haas, who was tragically killed at Auschwitz in 1944.

Nicholas says: “It is a stunning rhetorical work, passionate and deeply felt, and it uses famous Czech songs and hymns in an almost obsessive, minimalist way. The last part of the piece is one of the most wonderful pieces of music to play that I know. It’s like riding a great wave in a defiant, imperious fashion. It is full of great hope.”

The concert ends with sonatas by two lesser-known British composers, Rubbra and York Bowen – who, Nicholas feels, “stand up well in this august company of composers”.

“Rubbra’s piece is shorter but fully deserves the Sonata title because of its substantial emotional weight.

“The Bowen is a confident, lush, virtuosic piece, with a piano part that Bowen’s huge hands would have engulfed easily. His is an easy and affectionate romanticism, and it’s infectious communicative quality finishes the show.”

  • Nicholas Daniel (oboe)/Charles Owen (piano)
  • Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, Oxford
  • Friday 29 April, 7.30pm
  • Tickets: 01865 244806 or

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