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A spotlight on… oboist Olivia Fraser

Wed 13 May 2020

As the Evelyn Rothwell Competition for Solo Oboe comes round once again in the TL calendar, we caught up with former winner and Loveday Scholar 2018/19 Olivia Fraser to find out what she’s been up to since graduating with an MA in Oboe and the Director’s Prize for Excellence in 2019.

You studied at Trinity Laban as both an undergraduate and masters student. What were the most valuable things you gained during your time here?

“I had lots of wonderful experiences but a particularly valuable one was being part of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) Training Scheme. The scheme allowed me to play in some of the BSO concerts, receive mentoring and advice from their Principal Oboe, Ed Kay, and work on one of their outreach projects. It came at a really important time as I was right at the end of my masters degree and I wanted to really throw myself into a freelance orchestral career. I learned a lot from playing alongside Ed and I ended up going back down to Bournemouth after the scheme to do a patch of work with the orchestra on second oboe.

I was lucky to have lots of really inspiring oboe and cor anglais teachers at Trinity Laban."

 

"They’re not just amazing performers but also fantastic teachers. They’re all so dedicated to their music and they inspired me to work hard and to have the confidence to pursue an orchestral career.”

Olivia playing the oboe on stage accompanied by seated harpist

Image: Olivia, left, performing onstage at the TL Gold Medal 2020 (credit Tas Kyprianou)

How have your studies impacted your career?

“Throughout my studies I grabbed every opportunity I could find. I applied for schemes, signed up to masterclasses and entered lots of competitions. A great example of how this impacted my career was the Evelyn Rothwell Competition. I vividly remember that I almost didn’t enter because I was feeling overwhelmed by my upcoming end of year recital and nervous about the competition. But thankfully I did enter and not only was I named the joint winner of the prize but I also ended up staying in contact with the adjudicator, Nigel Treherne.

“Fast forward four years and I was recording a concerto that Nigel had written for two oboes and string ensemble, playing alongside Trinity Laban professor Chris O’Neal. This was my first professional recording and an experience that I cherish.

I’m so thankful that I entered the Evelyn Rothwell/Barbirolli Oboe Competition as it shaped a really important part of my career.”

 

You won the audience prize at the Trinity Laban Gold Medal 2020, wowing the crowd with Edwin Roxburgh’s Study 1and Antonio Pasculli’s Omaggio a Bellini. Why did you choose this repertoire, and what did you enjoy most about performing it?

“I had an amazing time performing at the Gold Medal. It took me a long time to choose my repertoire because you only have 15 minutes to showcase yourself. I wanted to see how much variety I could get into this short performance and not only showcase myself, but also the oboe, an instrument that isn’t often in the spotlight. I chose two pieces written by oboists, the first for solo oboe (Roxburgh) and the other for cor anglais and harp (Pasculli).

I was keen to stay away from the traditional and to push myself to give the audience something more unusual. This is a mindset that I have no doubt came from studying in the innovative and creative environment that Trinity Laban fosters."

 

“Roxburgh’s Study 1 was a piece that I came across while I was researching and listening to repertoire for the showcase and, as soon I as heard it, I knew it was the perfect pairing with the Pasculli. The piece is a showcase of the oboe and what it can do. It’s full of extreme contrasts in terms of dynamics, mood, range, articulations and character. There was very little written about the piece and I was keen to find out the composer’s intentions. So after a few weeks working on it I reached out to Edwin directly. We spoke on the phone and via email about his work and this gave me more confidence in some of my musical decisions and interpretations. Edwin came to watch the Gold Medal performance at Purcell Room and it was such a privilege to play for him. Having him there really was the icing on the cake for a very special night.”

Olivia Fraser on stage holding audience prize at TL Gold Medal Competition 2020

Image: Olivia receives the Gold Medal 2020 Audience Prize (credit Tas Kyprianou)

You’ve played with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Royal Ballet Sinfonia and London Mozart Players. Can you tell us what it’s like to be working with such high-profile orchestras?

“I used to dream of what it would feel like to play with professional orchestras. When I actually got there I wondered whether it would meet my expectations, whether it would be as exciting as I imagined. I think it’s even better than I expected. I worked really hard throughout my degrees to get to a point where I felt ready to play in a professional setting. It’s thrilling to play with such talented musicians and in such amazing situations.

I love every minute working with these orchestras and I feel so grateful every time I sit down to perform.”

 

Can you share any advice for students who might be aspiring to a similar career path?

“Take risks. I was quite reluctant to step out of my comfort zone when I started but taking risks can take you to some really exciting places. Collaborate with dancers, actors, artists and composers, try improvising (this terrified me when I started but is actually really liberating!), learn some wacky contemporary music, form an unusual ensemble… college is the place to take those risks and try new things!

Turn up on time for everything!"

 

"I struggled with time management when I started but, like everything, it’s a skill that you can improve with practise and a completely necessary skill for working in the orchestral profession.

“Be kind and respectful to your fellow students and to your teachers. They may well end up being your colleagues one day!”

Any future plans you’d like to share with us?

“Musical plans have sadly been put on pause for the time being due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation. I was due to compete at the International Barbirolli Competition which has now been postponed until next year, so I’ll have a few more months to get prepared for that!

"I was recently accepted onto Glyndebourne’s Pit Perfect scheme which allows recent graduates to perform with the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra. This year’s production is the utterly gorgeous Madame Butterfly by Puccini. I hope this might be able to go ahead at some point. I’m looking forward to the music industry getting up and running again and can’t wait to get back to playing in orchestra when I can!”

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Olivia will be performing live on our Facebook page on Friday 22 May at 18.00 as part of our #SelfIsolationCreation campaign.

Learn more about studying oboe at Trinity Laban on our woodwind page.

Main image: Olivia Fraser (credit JK Photography)