The oboe is responsible for tuning the whole orchestra at each concert. While it looks a lot like a clarinet, it sounds very different because of the double reed and the slim shape of the instrument. A double reed is two pieces of wood tied together but with enough space in between them that you can blow air through the gap, causing a column of air to vibrate through the instrument. Typically, oboists make their own reeds using cane, cork and thread. Another member of the oboe family is called the English horn. It is longer and can play lower.
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Julie Gramolini Williams
Acting Associate Principal Oboe
Marni J. Hougham
Oboe and English Horn, John Gilman Ordway Chair
Julie Gramolini Williams joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2007 and has served as acting associate principal oboe since September 2021; she also served as acting principal oboe from September through December 2022. She was previously a member of the Omaha Symphony, and held the principal oboe post with the United States Air Force Band of the West, stationed in San Antonio, Texas. During her enlistment, she was a soloist with the concert band and toured with the Southwest Winds Woodwind Quintet.
As a concert soloist, Gramolini Williams won the praises of The New York Times in 2014, who reported, “Julie Gramolini Williams needs to be singled out for her excellent oboe solos in both the Strauss [Don Juan] and the Beethoven [Symphony No. 3] in both concerts.” She performed as oboe soloist in a 2016 performance of Frank Martin’s Concerto for Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion and String. A multi-talented musician in her own right, Gramolini Williams played the English horn in a 2018 rendition of John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons; the Pioneer Press called her solo in the piece’s final movement “beautiful and sweet.”
Marni J. Hougham joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 1997, taking the John Gilman Ordway Chair for English horn. In 2006, 2011 and 2019, she was featured in performances of Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela, all under the baton of Osmo Vänskä; she performed and recorded the work with the Orchestra earlier under Eiji Oue. In 2008 and 2015, she was a soloist in performances of Copland’s Quiet City under the direction of Sarah Hicks and Eric Whitacre, respectively.