SFA's Brahms Festival - workshops, concerts, and symposia - on Friday, April 6, and Saturday, April 7

Vol. IV No. 29   ·   6 April 2001 


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Eugene Izotov: from Russia with oboe

By Midge Raymond

Eugene Izotov began his musical career when he was six years old, with lessons at the Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow -- even though his father and uncle, both musicians, tried to steer him away from music. "They thought the musician's life was too difficult," Izotov (SFA'95) says. But when he started showing what they called "the symptoms," such as perfect pitch, they took him to audition at the Gnesin, where he heard the sounds of an oboe coming from one of the practice rooms. Now, 20 years later, Izotov is associate principal oboist of the San Francisco Symphony and the orchestra's youngest member.

  Eugene Izotov.
Photo by Paula Gentile

Izotov, who will receive the SFA music division's Distinguished Alumni Award April 21, still remembers hearing the oboe for the first time. "I completely fell in love with the instrument," he says. "Immediately it shocked me how exotic and wonderful it sounded." He began playing the oboe several years later and won the Russia Wind Players Competition in 1991. Shortly thereafter, he arrived at the School for the Arts to study with Ralph Gomberg, who was then principal oboe of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Gomberg, Izotov says, "in many ways, gave me my life." Izotov studied not only music with Gomberg but also how to be a musician -- for instance, how to challenge himself and handle critics. In Izotov's case, rave reviews.

"You can't really believe the critics," Izotov says. "Ralph Gomberg told me, 'If they write something good and you agree with them, then if they write something bad about you, it's the same thing.'" While critics often single him out, Izotov is careful not to isolate himself from the orchestra. "If your name is mentioned and it's just one person, it's never really fair," he says. "We all make that music together."

Izotov has been guest principal oboe with the Boston Symphony and New World Symphony orchestras and principal oboe for the Kansas City Symphony. In 1999, he recorded an oboe solo for a Metallica single with the San Francisco Symphony, which he sees as a step toward bridging the gap between musical genres. Too many people associate classical music with a "Frasier-like" snobbery, he says. "It doesn't matter if we play classical or heavy metal or jazz. All of us are artists, and we're expressing our thoughts and feelings."

Because the oboe allows him self-expression, Izotov sees his music not as work but as a way of life. He performs several times a week in San Francisco and goes on tour twice a year, relishing both the performing and the travel. "The reason I love doing what I do is that it adds meaning to my life. It's not a job, it's not a way to make a living -- it's how I feel alive. Some people get tired of playing three to four concerts a week, but I think it's great because each time it can be different -- it gives you a chance to express your feelings differently."

Also a private oboe instructor, Izotov applies what he learned from his former BU professor: to help students make their marks in the music world by being alternately tough and encouraging. Gomberg "was able to guide me into whatever I was going to be. He said, 'I don't want you to be the next Gomberg; I want you to be the first Izotov.' I always tell my students, 'If you see yourselves being happy doing anything else, do that, because it's really hard.' In this business, if you don't win, you lose, unfortunately. There's only one spot at that audition, and there are 300 applicants. You have to be incredibly lucky, too. It's hard, but that's what I was meant to be."

Eugene Izotov will receive SFA's Distinguished Alumni Award in music on Saturday, April 21, during its Alumni Day 2001 Open House and Kahn Festival. He will also be part of the Ralph Gomberg Distinguished Artist Series, inaugural concert and master class, at BU's Concert Hall, at 855 Commonwealth Ave., on April 21, at 3 p.m. Other SFA award recipients for 2001 include: Michelle Hurd (SFA'88), theater; Pat Steir (SFA'60), visual art; Lucile Lawrence, distinguished faculty; and Tony McLean (SFA'79), distinguished service to profession. For more information, contact Karla Cinquanta at or 353-5544.


6 April 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations