Soloist spotlight: Phil Rashkin

Phil Rashkin is a busy man. Between his oboe playing, conducting, touring alongside multi-platinum artists, commissioning new works for his wind quintet, teaching/coaching, and generally crushing it in NYC, Phil knows how to get it done.

As a child growing up in California, he started playing the piano at age 5, tried a few wind instruments, then found his calling at 12 years old with the oboe. Since most oboists start later than other instruments – youngsters are not to be trusted with fragile reeds and the delicate keys of the oboe – the good news for Phil is that he already had a strong basis in music when he made the move. “It’s interesting when something happens at the beginning that seems so inconsequential can really shape everything. You know, I make reeds every day, it’s crazy.”

As musicians are wont to do when they get together, my discussion with Phil digressed into topics of art, the pursuit of happiness, what drives us, and generally how to make it work in the city. Phil made his conducting debut with Opera Upper West last year, on the podium for The Marriage of Figaro. How is it that an oboist became a conductor?, I wondered. As it turns out, conducting is Phil’s long-term goal, a passion he discovered during his Master’s degree at Mannes. It was a time when the school really began focusing on all the possible avenues a musician could explore that allowed Phil the space to consider what he liked best. “As an oboe player, you make reeds and you have to deal with all this technical stuff, and that’s fine, but it’s so much more fun to be a part of the bigger picture.” When balancing out oboe and conducting, it’s a bit of a conflict for Phil, as time is limited and there’s only so much of it you can invest on any given day. But, that’s the life of the artist – the pursuit that keeps you going, even if it’s a dynamic, sometimes nebulous, landscape.

Phil is also a part of the Washington Square Winds, a group dedicated to new music, now in its 7th season. As part of their original They’re Alive! series, the group commissions and performs works by living composers (one of which is TCS composer Tim Kiah).

[Plug alert! Check out the Washington Square Winds play a concert of collaborative works on May 15 at the Greenwich Music School!]

Colin Mannes, Phil’s former roommate and fellow soloist on this concert, introduced Phil to The Chelsea Symphony in 2013 when he played with the group for the first time at Symphony Space for the Mark O’Connor concert. Since then, Phil has been a regular member. Selecting the Mozart Oboe Concerto as his solo was both a practical move and a decision made out of sincere love for the piece. As it is often used for auditions, it’s one with which oboists are very familiar. Focusing on it in this context gave Phil a new appreciation for a work he’s been living with for the entirety of his adult musical life. Since he does so much new music with his wind quintet, he feels that visiting Mozart again, like an old friend, keeps both fresh.

Hear Phil Rashkin peform the Mozart Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 314 (285d) with The Chelsea Symphony TONIGHT!

Friday, April 15 at 8:30pm

St. Paul’s Church, 315 West 22nd Street