Make us your home page

Florida Orchestra principal oboe John Upton takes the lead in Mozart concerto

ST. PETERSBURG — John Upton wondered if Michael Francis would remember him.

The young oboist and the music director of the Florida Orchestra had met just a few months earlier. Upton was playing principal oboe for Miami's New World Symphony, a training ensemble for young musicians. Francis had told the young oboist he had promise, and to stay in Miami for a few more years working on his craft.

A few months later, Upton heard the news. The Florida Orchestra was looking for a principal oboe. It would be a blind audition, in which musicians play from behind a partition. Francis likes it that way since it helps him focus only on sound. Upton hoped that would be enough.

"I remember thinking, 'Is Michael going to recognize me and think, 'He needs a few more years'?"

Instead, Upton's blind audition impressed the music director.

"It was a clear he was a fantastic musician," Francis said, "but also that he had the potential to go much further."

Now Upton, 26, is one of the orchestra's most recognizable faces. As principal, he handles brief solo interludes written for the oboe, often in support of a visiting violinist or pianist. This weekend it's his turn to shine.

Upton will stand by conductor Stuart Malina to play Mozart's Oboe Concerto, which shows off the instrument's expressiveness and versatility.

Upton grew up in Lake Orion, a Detroit suburb. Neither of his parents are musicians. At the start of his fifth grade band class, he chose the oboe as his instrument because he thought it was a bassoon.

"They just gave me a reed," Upton said. "I still hadn't actually seen the instrument. And they said, 'Oh, great, you can make a sound on the reed, you have to play the oboe.' And when all the instruments came in, they gave me a tiny little case and I said, 'No, I want to play the big instrument.' I was not happy."

At 19, in his sophomore year at Eastman School of Music, he won a position in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He went on to earn a master's degree at the Juilliard School.

Upton lives in St. Petersburg with partner Evan Epifanio, a bassoonist for the Sarasota Orchestra. They spend spare time each week making reeds for their instruments, which can easily dry out or warp, while watching Netflix. Having a steady supply of reliable reeds keeps him from worrying about the next concert, in which he plays an especially critical role.

"The oboe is the orchestra leader of the wind instruments, in the highest echelon of importance," Francis said. "There is something in that plangent sound that speaks to the soul."

For Upton, it's the music itself.

"The music the oboe gets to play is what I really like about it," he said. "Whenever there's a love scene in the music or something more somber, there always seems to be an oboe solo."

Mozart's wrote the concerto in 1777, the peak of the classical era, when the number of solo pieces for other instruments passed those written for the violin. As a child, Upton had always loved the first and third movements, but not so much the slower and more meditative second movement.

"I don't think I understood slower music, the beautiful emotional music," Upton said. "Now it's just shifted. I live for the beautiful oboe solos. The fast, flashy stuff, take it or leave it. Anyone can do that stuff if you practice hard enough."

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Brahms, Mozart and Mendelssohn

The concert starts at 8 p.m. today at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15-$45. (727) 892-3337.

Florida Orchestra principal oboe John Upton takes the lead in Mozart concerto 01/20/17 [Last modified: Monday, January 23, 2017 11:48am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Interview: Steve Martin, Martin Short bringing 'best version' of their show back to St. Petersburg


    Hot celebrity-spotting tip: Stop by the Salvador Dalí Museum on Jan. 19. You might catch a glimpse of Steve Martin.

    Steve Martin, left, and Martin Short will bring “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” to the Mahaffey Theater on Jan. 19.
  2. Seminole Heights restaurants face struggles amid killings, post-Irma

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The neighborhood's hip circle of popular, well-regarded restaurants is feeling the squeeze in the wake of a recent killing spree. And the timing is rough.

    Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe has been taking precautions in light of the Seminole Heights killings: keeping the lights on all night and having employees walk to their cars in groups.
  3. Josbite goes all out, gets results with annual musical, 'The Threepenny Opera'


    TAMPA — As the house lights dimmed for the second act, burglars and pickpockets, prostitutes and scam artists weaved between the little tables of the Jaeb Theater, warning customers they'd best wind down their talking and silence their phones. This was done with a wink but the point was made. This is elitism …

    Miscreants in Jobsite Theater's The Threepenny Opera, which runs through Nov. 12, include (from left) Amy E. Gray, Jonathan Harrison, Giselle Muise, Chris Jackson, Fo'i Meleah, and Derrick Phillips. Courtesy of Jobsite Theater.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 24


    On Your Feet: The Broadway musical follows the true story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan's journey as Cuban immigrants coming to America to becoming pop-crossover sensation Miami Sound Machine. 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $45 and up. (813) …

    Alma Cuervo (far left), an Academy of the Holy Names graduate, stars in the upcoming production of "On Your Feet" at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday (Oct. 24). Also pictured, Claudia Yanez (as Rebecca), Christie Prades (as Gloria) and Nancy Ticotin (as Gloria Fajardo). Photo by Matthew Murphy
  5. Hip-hop artist looks to deliver music, monologues with one-woman show


    Tampa hip-hop artist and actress Dynasty takes her career into a new direction Saturday at Stageworks Theatre with her first one-woman show: A Star in Life's Clothing : Life. Love. Language. Lyrics.

    Hip-hop artist and actress Dynasty will present a one-woman show Saturday (Oct. 28) at Stageworks Theatre. Photo courtesy of @JoeyClayStudio.