The Oboe d’amore: Mission Impossible II

Following last week’s guest blog post by Jennifer Paull, she continues her series about commissioning a new repertoire of music for the entire oboe family.

In 1970, having decided I had to turn hope into action, the only thing to do was open an Artists’ Management company of my own. I would promote others and do my best for them to generate some income, making myself contacts for my own performances at the same time. Within a couple of weeks, I had a healthy list of artists as I phoned my friends and they contacted theirs. Amongst them were several composers who also conducted or played the piano. One in particular, was about to change everything. 

John McCabe was one of the nicest, unassuming yet brilliant musicians I ever met. He was a superlative pianist and we decided to give concerts together. His compositions were published by Novello & Co and although it was not my brief, promoting his music at the same time as the man himself was more or less inevitable. Basil Ramsey, Novello’s Director of Publications offered me the position of Promotion Manager and I jumped at it. This meant I had a base from which to contact even more composers and work for the promotion of their music. I did stipulate though that I was to be able to continue to perform. During this period, John wrote an oboe d’amore concerto for me, which I premiered with the Havant Chamber Orchestra. Other composers arranged suitable, already published works of theirs for oboe (or other instruments) into a version for oboe d’amore (Francis Chagrin, Wilfred Josephs, Martin Dalby, etc.). Gradually, as I was performing the beginnings of a new repertoire mixed with Baroque, more friends began to write original music for me. Edwin Carr, Leonard Salzedo and John Rushby-Smith were amongst the first. The list of oboe d’amore compositions was growing exponentially. 

In 1971, the Queen opened a second tunnel under the River Mersey and a Royal Command Performance of artists from Liverpool was arranged for her by Bernard Delfont. The Merseyside Arts Association commissioned a work from John McCabe (also originally from Liverpool) for me to play. Surely the strangest concert ever, there we were playing, sandwiched between Rex Harrison, Ken Dodd, Jerry and The Pacemakers and The Beverly Sisters!

One day, the BBCSO phoned wanting to book me for a performance of Mahler 9. I asked who was conducting. Bruno Maderna was the reply. I was going to say, as I usually did, that I no longer played in orchestras, but something made me ask that question and I am so glad I accepted the engagement. Meeting the father figure of the avant-garde was again, a life changing moment.

I spoke to him after the rehearsal in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios and he was very interested in what I was doing. Bruno had written two oboe concertos for Lothar Koch at this point and the second included musette, oboe d’amore and cor anglais. A third was to follow, written for Han de Vries and I was asked to write the programme notes for its premiere with the BBCSO with Maderna conducting. By now I was doing a lot of text writing for composers, who were notoriously hopeless at it.

Novello was owned by Granada TV and we collaborated on   programme ideas. One such was to be a filmed biography series of several outstanding contemporary composers. It didn’t see the light of day, unfortunately, whereas my idea of putting the Hallé wind section in a barge on Lake Windermere to play the Fireworks Music (Händel), did! It was even awarded an international TV prize, but no mention of its instigation by me, of course. All this enabled me to get to know Maderna as we spoke about the proposed programme and he introduced me to several of his friends including Luigi Nono and Cathy Berberian. By this time, I needed help at Novello’s and I had asked another composer friend, Chris Hazell, to come and work with me. Chris went on to have a long successful career as a producer with Decca and is one of the best arrangers there is; his latest moment of recognisable magic being the musical arrangements for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.

Through Maderna, my life was about to change yet again. His impresario, Sylvio Samama, was based outside Hilversum and suggested that I open a London branch of his business in my home in Upper Berkeley Street. The experience with my own management company had come in very handy! I spent one week a month in the Netherlands and again, my links to artists and composers grew. This company, de Koos Concert Management, had an incredible list of artists and I was meeting them all as well as looking after them when they were in GB. One was Libor Pesek. He needed some of his Czech concert reviews translated so that I could promote his conducting career in GB where he was unknown at the time. Luckily, my brilliant polyglot father rose to the occasion as he always did.

To be continued…

Jennifer ensured that the Amoris International archive of compositions can be accessed by everybody without charge at

Werner Icking Music Archive (WIMA)