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Questions for Debra Nagy, Baroque Oboist

One of North America's top baroque oboists answers questions about the instruments she plays, her ensemble, their debut recording, and her upcoming projects.

One of North America’s top baroque oboists, Debra Nagy is a multi-faceted musician who specializes in a number of early woodwinds – and as a vocalist.

I recently asked Debra about her instruments, her ensemble (Les Délices), their debut recording, and upcoming projects.

You are known as player baroque and classical oboes, but also play other early woodwind instruments. Can you tell us which ones?

Yes, as if playing at least five or six different baroque and classical oboes (as well as baroque recorder) weren’t enough, I have a second specialty in late-medieval music. I own and enjoy performing on soprano and alto shawms, renaissance recorders, as well as douçaines – a very soft kind of cylindrical bore shawm.

Somehow I’ve managed to stay away from bagpipes – though I’ve been dreaming lately about the musette…

And you sing, as well.

Yes. This is something I came to relatively late, and I certainly wish I did more of it, but I enjoy it very much nonetheless. I was very fortunate to take my first lessons with Ellen Hargis while I was working on my doctorate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Much of the professional singing I do is on programs where I’m called on to sing and play (mostly late-Medieval and Renaissance programs) with Ciaramella, or as a guest with other ensembles such as the Newberry Consort or Blue Heron Renaissance Choir.

Of course, people who know me, know that I’m always singing.

How did you come to establish your ensemble, Les Délices?

Les Délices was born out of my strong affinity for and interest in French baroque music, and the idea that, if I were to form an ensemble, it should fill an important void. While there are several fantastic French groups devoted to mostly French repertoire, there was no American ensemble dedicated to the performance of chamber music at low-French chamber pitch (A-392).

Though there are several esteemed American chamber groups made up of mixed strings and winds (Musica Pacifica or Aulos Ensemble come to mind), I also didn’t feel the need to replicate their concept or repertoire.

Instead, by focusing on French chamber music, Les Délices can explore a pretty vast repertory that is only rarely performed using relatively flexible formations of mixed strings, winds and continuo, with the possible addition of voices for specific programs.

Les Délices was born in 2006 in Cleveland, OH (where I live) and brings together artists with national reputations who share a passion for a beguiling yet seldom heard repertoire.

Tell us about Les Délices’ new recording.

Our first disc, “The Tastes Reunited,” was released this past June, and we’ve been receiving really wonderful feedback. The title of the disc is a direct translation of Les Goûts-réünis, which refers to reuniting the French and Italian styles. For François Couperin, uniting these styles was a career-long project, and so the disc includes two of his early trios from the 1690s, La Pucelle and L’Astrée (both of them were later edited and appended as “sonades” to large suites in his collection Les Nations).

We also included a refreshing trio by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault from about the same time, La Felicité. In addition, the disc features a premiere recording of a suite for oboe by François Chauvon (a student of Couperin’s – the music is wonderfully quirky!), a very Italianate sonata by the organist Louis-Antoine Dornel, a suite by Pierre Danican Philidor, and solos for theorbo and guitar by Louis XIV’s Italian guitar teacher Francesco Corbetta and Robert de Visée.

It was wonderful to collaborate with violinist Scott Metcalfe, gambist Emily Walhout, lutenist Lucas Harris, and harpsichordist Lisa Goode Crawford for this recording.

[Recording] Engineer Peter Nothnagle also found a fabulous sound for us.

What are some of your upcoming projects?

Well, we actually have concerts coming up this week….I’ve been spending a lot of time finishing up the program notes, so this project is very at the very front of my mind.

It’s a very interesting program called “Hommages” that explores French baroque composers’ musical portraits and tributes. The centerpiece of the program is Couperin’s Apotheosis de Lullly. Other selections include pairing Rameau’s La Forqueray with Forqueray’s La Rameau, a Dornel suite that portrays several famous flutists, and Marais’ Tombeau de Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe.

Otherwise, we’re developing several other programs for concerts later this Spring and for next year. I would watch out (hopefully) for another recording from Les Délices in 2011.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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