Jonathan Small

Photo of Jonathan Small

Professor of Oboe


Email: [email protected]

A Tutor in Oboe at the RNCM, Jonathan has been Principal Oboe with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra since 1984. He won a scholarship to study with Michael Winfield at the Royal College of Music, winning the Joy Boughton Oboe Prize in 1978. He was also Principal Oboe with Scottish Opera from 1980-84, during which time he was a founding member of Paragon Ensemble. He has played as guest principal with most of the country’s major orchestras, and appears as a concerto soloist in the UK and abroad.

Jonathan’s recording of the Richard Strauss Concerto with the RLPO and Gerard Schwarz was selected in October 2014 by BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library, as the best version from all the available recordings made since the work’s composition.

Jonathan has taught the oboe at the RNCM since 1991 and is also Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. His teaching emphasises development of the students’ tone production, solo performance skills, stylistic awareness and working toward perfection of all aspects of technique. He emphasises reed-making skills and proper study of the orchestral repertoire.

Personal Website

Professional Activity

First and foremost, I think it’s important to say that the main reason I teach is that I do get tremendous pleasure from seeing a student develop as much as she can, and that working with her makes me a better musician. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to stop and think while teaching, and find the verbal explanation for something that I may have taken for granted, or done without thinking about it very much. I’d would certainly say that if we want to explain to a young musician why we play a phrase a certain way, why we hold the instrument just so, why we articulate a passage in a certain way, then we have to understand the answer to that ourselves, and be able to explain it logically and clearly.

I do perhaps have an analytical turn of mind, and I apply this rigorously to as many aspects of playing the oboe as possible, technical, musical, in terms of reeds and so on.

Naturally everything comes from breath support and control. This is the foundation of any oboist’s playing and so it will always be the first thing we’ll work on. Our playing must live on the breath.

I came to regard the technique of playing the oboe technique as being rather like a Venn diagram: overlapping circles at the core of which is always breathing. We cannot articulate (tongue) properly without the proper air flow to go with it, for example.

Most of all I try to impress upon the undergraduate and post graduate oboist that her best teacher will always be herself. The student has to be guided by the teacher but must ultimately decide for herself how she wants to play the oboe and what she wants to say with it.

So I seek to train without being didactic, to nurture and draw out a musical personality, to express original ideas as much as possible but always with a keen ear on style and musical integrity. I do try to encourage my students to think way beyond the oboe, to learn what we can about music from other instrumentalists and of course singers, conductors too, to become the finest musician we can be, who happens to play the oboe.