The world of professional orchestral music may be hard to get into but Manhattan Beach native Martha Kleiner continues to audition, study, rehearse, practice and do whatever it takes to land a paid position as an oboe player.
The Mira Costa High (2007) and now New England Conservatory of Music graduate will bring her talent to a free 30-minute performance tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church as part of its Bach’s Lunch series.
This is the second time the rising young oboist has been asked to perform in the series. She will be joined Friday by Izumi Kashiwagi on piano. The program will consist of George Philip Telemann VI’s Fantasia in D Minor from Twelve Fantasias; Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, Op.34 No.14, and Henri Dutilleux’ Sonate pour Hautbois et Piano.
For Kleiner, who is actively auditioning with professional orchestras, music is a lifelong passion, and one that is sending her to the Aspen Music Festival to study and play for eight weeks beginning June 20, followed by a full ride to The Colburn School Conservatory of Music.
“My main instrument growing up was piano,” said Kleiner, whose mom Lynn is a savvy music education authority whose Music Rhapsody program/business is known around the world and begins with students as young as babies. “I played the piano a lot. I practiced all the time. And then in elementary school, when you’re able to choose an instrument, I picked the clarinet.”
After playing clarinet for about eight years, including in Mira Costa’s marching band and orchestra, Martha switched to the oboe, which she’d first discovered as a high school freshman while attending the Idyllwild Arts Academy one summer.
“It was just really interesting,” said Kleiner. “Oboe’s a really hard instrument for a young person to sound really good on, and I’d never heard it really played well before that. And I just loved it.”
The oboe, which typically fills one to four seats in an orchestra depending on its size, “is a double reed instrument,” said Kleiner. “That means that the mouthpiece that you put in your mouth to play on is two pieces of bamboo that are scraped really thin and they just vibrate together. And it’s really finicky. Basically, if you don’t have a good reed, it just won’t sound good no matter how good of a player you are.
“So for a young person who isn’t very experienced on the instrument, plus probably isn’t having the best kind of reeds, it’s just hard for them to figure it all out. Once you kind of learn the instrument, you actually make the reeds yourself. It’s something you kind of have to learn at the same time [you’re learning how to play].”
Certainly, playing oboe is a whole different game from other instruments that don’t require new reeds fashioned by the artist who plays it.
Said Kleiner, “It’s the most difficult thing about playing the instrument. I mean, you literally start with a tube of bamboo. You cut it up and put it at the right size and you gauge out the middle so that it’s really thin. You fold it over and tie it to a piece of cork. And then you just cut it open so that there’s a hole at the top. And you scrape it really thin until, it’s kind of like when you put grass in between your fingers and you blow on the grass, it has to be really thin so that the two pieces vibrate together when you’re blowing through it. That’s definitely the biggest challenge of playing.”
Kleiner has an accomplished oboe resume, having played for the professional Discovery Ensemble while attending the NEC in Boston, as well as countless other steady gigs and work and study.
Kleiner has played many instruments, including piano, violin, flute and clarinet. Indeed, she “loved trying every instrument that I could.”
With a mom who is so well known, one might wonder if that was a negative or positive for Kleiner.
“At first, I didn’t want to do music,” said Kleiner, who decided on a professional music career her freshman or sophomore year of high school. “I didn’t really want to follow in my mom’s footsteps. But then I realized that what I am doing is completely different than what my mom does.
“I really respect what my mom does. I love it now. Growing up, I wasn’t that into it. I don’t even think I could do what she does. What I do is different.”
Kleiner, indeed, has shown a determination to learn, study and work to make it as a professional orchestral oboist. As an example of her commitment, she had applied for the Aspen Music Festival a couple of years ago and though she wasn’t accepted, she didn’t let that deter her. “I worked really hard on my [audition] tape this year,” she said.
Kleiner’s studies at NEC were with Boston Symphony oboist John Ferrillo. At Colburn, she will study with oboist Anne Marie Gabriele who has been with the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2000.
Kleiner said that Colburn has “just started to become distinguished as a conservatory the last few years,” producing acclaimed students. She is excited to be joining the school and says that they will work around any auditions that come up.
She auditioned for Colburn in March and learned of her acceptance about a week later. “It was a really intense audition process,” said Kleiner.
Kleiner is appreciative of her orchestral experience at Mira Costa.
“It was great,” she said. “I think Mira Costa has a really good orchestra program that a lot of schools don’t get. Most high schools have a string program and a wind program but to be able to combine it into a full symphony orchestra is really special I think. I definitely don’t think I would have had that experience at very many other schools. It was great. There were a lot of great opportunities there.”
These days, Kleiner practices at least one hour a day, if not two or three, and makes two or three reeds a day. For an oboe player, a good reed might last one or two weeks, maybe even three of four if not played that much, according to Kleiner. She said it takes 20-30 minutes to make the actual reed but that the preparation process takes much longer and isn’t one you sit down and complete from start to finish.
Given all that’s involved to be an oboist, it’s easy to see that dedication is Kleiner’s hallmark along with a love of orchestral music.
” I love orchestra repertoire,” said Kleiner. “I love all the composers who write for orchestra. I love playing it. It’s one thing to listen to it but playing it is completely different. I really hope to be in a professional orchestra soon.”
Kleiner gets that it’s hard to land a job as a professional oboist when there are only so many positions. She says that every state has at least one professional orchestra and names four in California. “It’s just hard to land a job that will be completely supportive of your lifestyle,” she said.
“The problem is in a big orchestra like the L.A. Phil there’s only four oboes and smaller ones have only two or three and those people keep their jobs for as long as they can. So, there’s not many openings.”
Kleiner’s number one goal is to “take auditions” for a professional oboist slot. “It wouldn’t even be a decision. I would leave Colburn to work,” she said, noting that usually the jobs she would apply for wouldn’t start until the next year.
Said Karla Devine of Trinity Lutheran Church’s music programs, “Martha was chosen because she is such a wonderful musician and everyone was very eager to have her back. She also grew up at Trinity, so we want to encourage her and give her the opportunity to share her exceptional talent.”
Kleiner came home to Manhattan Beach specifically for the performance and returns to Boston on Saturday. While home, she’s been enjoying family and friends and Mexican food, which she can’t get in Boston. El Sombrero is her favorite.
She told MB Patch that she has been supported by her parents, Steve and Lynn, during her musical pursuits.
“My parents have been nothing but supportive,” she said. “There was never a question. They just want to make sure I’m doing my part. They helped me go to school, they helped me get there. They’re very on top of me, but it’s getting to the point where they realize I’m kind of doing it on my own. They’ve never really had a question about it.”
Of her mom’s work she said, “I never understood what she did until now because actually I do a lot of similar things. She works with children in education and I’ve started recently to do a lot of outreach performances, like go to schools and see young children and explain to them what I do. I think it’s really nice because it’s surprising how many young children don’t really know anything about music.”
She’s also played in high school band classes and played with those students in their rehearsals, and explained to children as young as preschool ages what an orchestra is and tech them about the music being played and the instruments being used. “That’s something that has been new to me,” she said, “but it’s something that’s really important and I never really thought about it before and that’s the biggest connection I have with what my mom does.”