New York Times, The (NY) - July 26, 2006
Deceased Name: John Mack, Principal Oboist of His Time, Dies at 78
John Mack, who was the principal oboist of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1965 to 2001 and who reigned as dean of American oboists for several decades, died on Sunday in Cleveland. He was 78.
The cause was complications of treatment for brain cancer, his son John Richard Mack said.
Mr. Mack was active until weeks before his death, when he collapsed on a golf course, said his friend David Zauder, a retired trumpeter in the Cleveland Orchestra.
Mr. Mack in his long prime played with a big, round tone that seemed to defy the finicky nature of his instrument, which draws its sound from fragile bamboo reeds, painstakingly carved and bound, and is prone to a ducklike nasality. Without sacrificing poise or elegance, he achieved a remarkable range of expressivity and coloration.
In the many brief or extended solos he played in orchestral works as principal oboist, he was rock solid almost to the end of his playing career, and he was a frequent soloist in concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra. He was a pillar of tradition and a setter of standards in the orchestra throughout its rise to international pre-eminence, working first under George Szell as music director, then under Lorin Maazel and Christoph von Dohnanyi. His influence extended far beyond Cleveland and beyond the oboe through his tireless mentoring of woodwind players.
"Teaching is close to a sacred duty," he once said, and it was a mission he lustily embraced. Mr. Zauder, who was also the personnel manager of the Cleveland Orchestra, said, "There is a student of John Mack in virtually every orchestra in this country."
In addition to the Cleveland Institute of Music, his primary teaching forum was the John Mack Oboe Camp, a summer event in Little Switzerland, N.C., which was founded in 1976 by one of his star pupils, Joseph Robinson, who retired as the principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic last year. (This year's camp was canceled last month because of Mr. Mack's illness.)
In a setting combining rigorous instruction with quaint amusements, Mr. Mack would regale the youngsters with tales about his own beloved mentor, Marcel Tabuteau, who retired from the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1954 and died in 1966. The perennial groaner, always eagerly awaited, was the tale of Mr. Tabuteau's amazement in childhood at seeing a turkey dance to music. The method, in brief (which was hardly the way Mr. Mack told it), was to put the bird on a metal floor and light a flame underneath.
Mr. Mack's musical homilies were similarly earthy and humorous. His pupil and Cleveland Orchestra colleague Elizabeth Camus compiled many of his sayings in an article about the camp: an oboe solo in Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, for example, "is like rocking the baby to sleep, only the baby's dead." And in the "Pastoral" Symphony, "Beethoven's quail is dumb but happy."
John Mack was born in 1927 in Somerville, N.J., and took up the oboe in sixth grade. He studied with Harold Gomberg of the New York Philharmonic at the Juilliard School and with Mr. Tabuteau at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
He was principal oboist at the New Orleans Symphony from 1952 to 1963 and at the National Symphony in Washington from 1963 to 1967. In Cleveland he also played in a chamber group, the Plymouth Trio.
In addition to his work at the Cleveland Institute, he taught at the Juilliard School and at the Hartt School in Hartford.
Mr. Mack is survived by his wife, Anne; his sons, David and John Richard, and his daughter, Cecile, all of Cleveland; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
In interviews Mr. Mack, whose friends had warned him away from the oboe in childhood, often spoke of the degree of "elemental bravery" needed to play that intractable instrument. But after establishing himself under the autocratic Szell, he had little to fear. At any rate, he didn't show it.
1 Franklin S. Mack
Katherine D. Mack
2 David F. Mack
2 John W. Mack, born in 1927 in Somerville, N.J., d. 2006
3 John Richard Mack
3 David Mack
3 Cecile Mack
1930 United States Federal Census
Name Parent or Spouse Names Home in 1930
(City,County,State) Estimated Birth Year Birthplace Relation
Franklin S Mack Katherine D Somerville, Somerset, New Jersey abt 1900 New Jersey Head
Katherine D Mack Franklin S Somerville, Somerset, New Jersey abt 1899 Wife
David F Mack Franklin S, Katherine D Somerville, Somerset, New Jersey abt 1926 Son
John W Mack Franklin S, Katherine D Somerville, Somerset, New Jersey abt 1928 Son
Household Members: Name Age
Franklin S Mack 30
Katherine D Mack 31
David F Mack 3 11/12
John W Mack 2 2/12