Articles & Interviews
Jan 1, 2019
Principal Oboe, Edo de Waart Chair
SFS member since: 1996-2003; 2015 to present
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
A Musical Journey: Theme and Variations for Oboe
Just as an oboe solo can turn the emotional pitch of a musical work in dramatic new directions, this instrument and its master players have appeared at crucial junctures in Eugene Izotov’s life, underscoring, even initiating, the changes that have brought him to his current position.
The oboe first called to Eugene Izotov when he was five years old and heard an oboist practicing. “Wow! I was just so taken with how expressive and beautiful it was.” Later, a friend sent him a bootleg recording of Swan Lake with oboe legend Ralph Gomberg playing the haunting solos. He’d been studying the oboe in earnest for a few years when another friend recorded Eugene’s own winning performance at a competition. Discouraged about his future prospects in the Soviet Union, he gave the tape to his mother and asked her to try to find him a teacher in America. “Through a magical series of events, somehow the tape ended up with Ralph Gomberg in Boston.” Gomberg agreed to teach Eugene, even sponsoring his student visa.
In 1992 Eugene took master classes with William Bennett, then principal oboe with the San Francisco Symphony. “He was kind of tough, actually. But he took me aside one day and told me, ‘If you’re going to be in this profession, you have to learn how to cope with criticism. But I’m being direct with you because I believe you have what it takes.’ This meant so much coming from someone like that. He gave me the gift of believing in myself.” Soon, aged just twenty-one, Eugene was named associate principal oboe of the San Francisco Symphony, playing alongside Bennett almost daily. “When I later won my first big job as a principal, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, it was his victory as well.”
By 2013 Eugene had become principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony when tragedy struck. Bennett, his friend and former colleague, had collapsed onstage while performing Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto with the SFS. He died a few days later. “I'll never forget that horrible night. It’s a very painful subject.” Eugene was still grieving months later when the invitation came to audition for the SFS Principal Oboe position. “This opportunity happened for the worst possible reason. But it means a lot to me to be here after Bill, because there's really a lot of him in me.”
Eugene has honored Bennett and Gomberg by being a teacher himself, at the Juilliard School, DePaul University, and (currently) at the SF Conservatory. “This year I'm celebrating my unofficial twentieth year of teaching. It’s incredibly challenging, but I love it, because when you and the student find the right combination of all the elements, magic happens. It's just pure joy.”
For SFS Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov the road has always led back to San Francisco.