Most people have found lockdown very confining, but for the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestras’ principal oboe Lisa White it has been liberating. Lisa, who is the soloist in the currently-being-recorded Summer Cyber Symphony Series (she plays the Mozart Oboe Concerto), has been, like may international musicians, affected by performance anxiety which can be crippling.

“This period has been good for me,” she says. “I have reconnected to the personal joy my instrument provides. I have been able to concentrate solely on what I want to do and not worry about performing for other people.  If I wanted to play scales all day, I could; I played music I may not normally choose because I was playing for myself and not anyone else. Performance anxiety is often played down and it shouldn’t be. One needs time and support to get over being a little lost in the anxiety of performing in public and I am grateful I have had both.”

That Lisa has come out stronger is evident from her obvious pleasure in accepting this engagement. Not that she has only been playing for herself in this time – she threw herself wholeheartedly into the chamber music the CPO produced for the National Arts Festival, the Klein Karoo Klassique (the Mozart Wind Octets was just nominated for a Fiesta Award in the Best Achievement category) and the CPO’s Symphonic Masterpieces in Miniature, as well in to the mentoring of the young musicians in the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and Youth Wind Ensemble. Plus, she is looking forward to going into Mentoring Round 2 later this month.

Lisa White and Jeremy Silver in rehearsal
Lisa White and Jeremy Silver in rehearsal

An old favourite that oboists love

Lisa is looking forward to this concert, which was performed and recorded at The City Hall under the direction of Jeremy Silver over on 6 and 7 February, 2021. Working in The City Hall was a pleasure on the one hand and a minefield on the other – as it’s undergoing renovation and the orchestra was lucky to be able to hire just the auditorium for the weekend … and Saturday being a full working day meant the acoustic resonated more than expected. Sunday was a quiet day, thank heavens.

The concerto is a wonderful piece, she says. “It’s an old favourite that all oboists love. The rondo is full of cheeky moments and I really enjoyed performing it with the orchestra.” Engagements for oboists with an orchestra are very unusual, so she has made the best of the time, working with people she likes in a place she likes.

This is actually the anniversary of Lisa’s joining the CPO – it was in January 2018 that she began, and she has loved the time. She joined after spending two and a half years in New Mexico, where she went after graduating from the SA College of Music at UCT. She studied at UCT with Ioanna Matei, won the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarship for Postgraduate Studies and twice the SACM Chamber Music Prize, and was also on the Dean’s Merit List at UCT from 2011- 2014. She grew up in Johannesburg but now sees Cape Town as her home.

“I went to the US to get experience and training that could improve my musicianship which I could then bring back here. This is much more easily accessed overseas because of the sheer number of musicians and the support for the arts. I received a great oboe tuition from Kevin Vigneau (former principal oboe of the Cape Town Symphony many years ago), which enabled me to come back with more confidence in what is possible for an oboist – a broader perspective on the level of playing and the level of musicianship I can aspire to,” she adds.

She aspires to being able to play better and better so that she can inspire people the way they inspired her.

Lisa loves all varieties of classical music – chamber and solo pieces which she sees as experimentation.  “It’s wonderful to play music that we don’t normally play.  The Cape Town Concert Series presented a few concerts featuring “The Other Side” of CPO musicians and where else would one get a chance to play a piece for Oboe and Wine Glasses? “One can expand the musical experience and let everyone go out on a limb,” she says. While in the US, she played with many ensembles, worked as a graduate assistant at the University of New Mexico. She has also participated in the Stellenbosch ICMF and performed with Free State Symphony and Eastern Cape Philharmonic. She has worked as an orchestra assistant at the UCT Symphony Orchestra, taught her instrument at South Peninsula High School, lectured at the annual Musikwoche in Swakopmund, and would like to teach again.

She is a very creative person, baking and doing embroidery.

“Amazingly, I have done less baking in lockdown because I was so focussed on the oboe, but I did learn a new embroidery technique and I am planting a balcony indigenous garden.” Oh yes, she also makes her own oboe reeds.

The concert, which also features The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives and the Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter”, by Mozart, will be streamed at a date to finalised. More details on the four-concert series will be available on  Three concerts present CPO/CPYO principals as soloists … Shannon Thebus in the Strauss Horn Concerto and flautist Gabriele von Dürckheim and Petrus Coetzee (viola) in the Concertino for Flute and Viola by Stefans Grové; the fourth which will feature Bernhard Gueller back on the podium, is still being finalised.

Who: Lisa White Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestras oboe debut