Nick Ridley, principal oboe

What do you do for a living?
I work in the wonderful world of TV and Film as a computer person. I design and write computer software that gets used all around the world on the highest profile films and also in dark basements in Soho.
Tell us a little about the instrument you play? Do you play any other instrument?
The oboe is my instrument, and I felt inexplicably drawn to it when I was around 11, but I didn’t get the chance to start learning it for a few years. Before then I had learnt the violin and I played that until I was 17 in the school orchestra. I used to look back jealously at the wind section who were always laughing at some joke those of us up at the front under the conductor’s beady eye were annoyingly not privy to. One day the orchestra’s principal oboist became ill and I was at last able to escape the strings to the wind where I have been doing my best to continue those traditions ever since. As for other instruments, I used to sing in the school choir and have experienced a lot of wonderful church music that way, and I also played rock bass guitar through my university years. I was in a band that had limited success, but I also did some professional work with a few ageing 70s outfits in such illustrious venues as Butlins in Bognor Regis, Wembley Gala Bingo, and the Holiday Inn in Kuching, Malaysia.

An instrument such as the clarinet has a single reed, a piece of cane that vibrates against the mouthpiece. In contrast the oboe is from the family of double-reed wind instruments. A double-reed is two pieces of cane tied together at one end around a metal tube which sticks into the end of the instrument. The open ends of the reed go between your lips and when you blow through them they vibrate together. Without the instrument it makes a sort of squawking sound, but once you add the length of tube that is the oboe the sound can resonate more. The hole between the two pieces of cane is really pretty small and tight so if you see an oboist going red in the face, try blowing into a gap a few millimeters square yourself for hours on end!

For the budding physicists amongst you an oboe has a conical bore, meaning that the instrument gets wider towards the end. When the sound waves vibrate inside the instrument they bounce back and mix up together to produce its rich tone. A clarinet however has a cylindrical bore, and when the sound waves bounce around inside the instrument they don’t change as much and thus cancel out each other a bit, and this is what makes the clarinet sound more 'hollow'.
When did you start your musical education?
I come from a family where my parents enjoyed listening to classical music but I was never pushed into playing an instrument. When I took the violin up at the age of six I remember my main motivation was that my best friend had started lessons and I didn't want to be left out. Like many people I'm sure I tried my luck at the piano for a while but it didn't work out. After changing schools I was able to start oboe lessons at 13, and in time I realised I had found my instrument. The early years can be tough, especially for those listening, but with hard work and lots of love for it you can reach a point when people no longer instinctively reach for the cotton wool.
How long have you been with the CCO?
I have played with CCO for over ten years now. Ben, the other oboist in CCO, was one of the aforementioned wind players at my school who was always having too much fun, and he and I have played together for much longer, committing many musical crimes in the school wind band.
What has been your favourite CCO concert?
When I am playing concerts with CCO I frequently think that I am doing my most favourite thing in the world, and sometimes I feel this tingling that something undeniably special is happening. Often this is brought on by a colleague playing a phrase in an exquisite fashion, or the conductor looking like he is totally losing himself in the excitement of the music and you can sense that the orchestra is totally with them too, locked as one onto the sweep of their hands and the intensity of their facial expression. In the last season those of us who played Vaughan-William's Fifth Symphony will remember the amazing atmosphere at the end. The piece was written during the second World War and the third movement in particular is a requiem to those who gave their lives. Perhaps as hobbyist musicians we play for ourselves and hope to communicate the emotions we feel as a group to an audience, but those times when you can feel it really happening as it did that night are just unforgettable and I feel an enormous sense of pride in what we have achieved.
Which piece of music do you most enjoy playing?
The obvious choice would be a piece that has some lovely oboe tunes, so I won’t disappoint. Mahler's Kindertotenlieder was a highlight, but another piece I would make enormous effort to get to play would be his Das Lied von der Erde. I've only had the chance to play it once years ago but the melodies still often flow out of my fingers when I am warming up. However my overall favourite is Belshazzar's Feast by Walton. It is a choral piece scored for a huge orchestra with offstage brass players, and despite being very tricky with lots of jazzy rhythms and a multitude of potholes to trip into, the adrenaline pulls you through and at the end I always have to struggle not to leap up and shout 'Yeah! I made it!'
If you could take a recording of one piece of music to a desert island, what would it be?
This changes, but it is likely to be a song by the Canadian rock band Rush called Afterimage. It got under my skin when I was 17 and one day some years later the lyrics took on a whole different meaning and now it feels part of me.
Who are your musical heroes?
I do like my rock music, so I'm more likely to chose people from that sphere e.g. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd or Neil Peart of Rush. For me music is about communicating emotion, even if that emotion might be one of nothingness, and I can't imagine my life without the feelings I have when I listen to Dave play a soaring melodic guitar solo with his pure, crystalline sound. From the classical world Maxim Vengerov is someone who never ceases to astound me – he plays his violin with this air of ecstasy. The first time I heard him play I was so astounded by his technical ability that I gasped in the same way audiences must done on hearing Paganini 200 years ago.
When was the last time you attended a concert as one of the audience?
Last week I went to see U2 at Wembley Stadium, and saw The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at The Proms.
What do you listen to in the car?
I frequently listen to the Front Row podcast, a Radio 4 programme about The Arts.
What are your other interests?
As you might guess from my work I'm a bit of computer and technology geek, but over the past 15 years I have also developed a big interest in the London theatre and I regularly drag friends along to plays at The National Theatre and The Donmar Warehouse. If I ever have money to leave when I'm dead these two places will get it as the memories of the evenings I've spent there give me enormous pleasure.