Spotlight on Jennifer Christen

Principal oboist Jennifer Christen has been with the ISO since 2012, and played at the New World Symphony beginning the year prior. She’s originally from Hamburg, NY, a suburb of Buffalo that is becoming known as a hotbed of oboe talent — Atlanta Symphony Orchestra principal oboist Elizabeth Koch Tiscione grew up down the street from Jennifer.

Jennifer also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School where she studied with John Mack, Nathan Hughes and Elaine Douvas. We sat down with Jennifer in October of 2018 to put the spotlight on her:

Why did you pick oboe?

I started on piano when I was 5, and added oboe to the mix when I was in fourth grade. I actually picked the oboe because my best friend picked it — what luck! Thank you, Katie!

Is there any specific story about your current oboe?

Oboes have a very small bore, and any slight change in the bore due to weather, swabbing out the condensation, or even just playing a lot causes the oboe to “blow out.”

When an oboe is blown out, small changes in the bore cause consistency issues — pitch becomes unreliable, especially in the upper register. If you play loudly, the sound can easily get away from you and sound harsh or hollow, lacking depth. Playing a full-range scale on a blown out oboe will likely sound uneven in pitch and color.

Because of this, professionals generally need to buy a new oboe every 3-5 years. I’m due for a new one!

What is your favorite piece of music currently?

I am currently loving anything Bach. We have a newborn at home, and I often play Bach on Spotify while I’m feeding him. It is just so beautiful, so interesting, yet also so relaxing. I’m listening to the Goldberg Variations quite a lot right now. It’s such an enormously impressive work!

Do you have a favorite memory of something that happened on stage?

I wouldn’t call this a favorite memory, but it is certainly a memorable one.

While at Juilliard, I was playing a concert doubling on oboe and english horn. I can’t remember the piece. What I do remember is trying to quickly take out the english horn reed in order to switch to oboe. Only the reed flew out behind me and landed in the trumpet section. I had a solo coming up later in the movement, and desperately needed that reed! I looked back into the trumpet section, frantically signing to them to please pass up the reed, but they were far too scared to touch a precious, fragile double reed!

During the concert, I had to get up out of my chair, walk back two rows, pick up my reed, and walk back to my chair. The reed was fine, but I was humiliated!

You sit next to the flutes in the orchestra, but you seem to surround yourself with flute players!

I have an identical twin sister who plays the flute. We grew up playing duets together, both for the flute and oboe as well for piano. She is now a music therapist in New York City, working with children with autism.

It’s funny that now I’m married to a flute player, and we play some of the same duets my sister and I used to play! It makes the music extra special!