Thursday, February 28, 2013

Washington McClain, Baroque Oboe Professor and Member of Groups in Toronto, Montreal and Cleveland Died February 26, 2013

Prof. Washington McClain, Baroque Oboist 
He died February 26, 2013 

Indiana University Bloomington
Jacobs School of Music


Remembering Washington McClain

It is with sadness that I report the unexpected and sudden death of the Early Music Institute’s esteemed colleague and baroque oboe teacher, Washington McClain.

Washington McClain was a former member of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and principal oboist of l’Ensemble Arion (Montreal) and Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra (Cleveland, Ohio). He performed with many other baroque orchestras in the United States and in Canada. Washington was appointed Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music (Baroque Oboe) in the Jacobs School of Music in 2001.

Professor McClain’s extensive teaching and performing experience in workshops and festivals in North America included The Amherst Early Music Festival, Albuquerque Baroque Music Festival, the Madison Early Music Festival, The International Baroque Institute at Longy (Boston), Festival International de Musique Baroque de Lamèque (New Brunswick, Canada), The Staunton Music Festival (Virginia), and the Boston Early Music Festival. He was also the first period instrument performer to be featured in an article in Windplayer Magazine.

Professor McClain made recordings for Sony Classical Vivarte, ATMA Records, Analekta Records, and Centaur Records.  One of McClain’s last recordings, of French baroque music by François Chauvon, a pupil of Couperin, issued on (Montreal), is reviewed in the Spring 2013 issue of Early Music America magazine.

Wash, as he was known to his colleagues, was not only a brilliant musician and teacher but his unfailingly cheerful, sunny disposition and deep, hearty chuckle lightened most of the fleeting moments we spent with him, which makes his untimely passing all the harder to bear.

In the EMI, Wash was much loved by all of the faculty and he will be greatly missed.

Musical Toronto
Sudden death of former Tafelmusik oboist and period-performance teacher Washington McClain

By On
Former Tafelmusik oboist Washington McClain died suddenly and unexpectedly at his home in Windsor, Ont on Feb. 26.

McClain was one of the pioneers in historically informed practice on the oboe and principal oboe with Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra through the 1990s. As a longtime teacher, his influence reached out in some way to just about every period oboe performer in North America.

The graduate of Northeast Louisiana University and Northwestern University was until his death teaching at Indiana University’s Early Music Institute in Bloomington. He was also principal oboe with Montreal’s Ensemble Arion and Apollo’s Fire, and was in demand as a baroque oboe guest with period-instrument orchestras across the continent.

Reached in Montreal this morning, bassoonist, conductor and Ensemble Arion colleague Matthieu Lussier said that McClain had been suffering from some unusual health problems in the last few weeks, including Bell’s palsy, a viral ailment that had temporarily left the oboist unable to provide fine control over the muscles around his mouth.  Lussier said that next week’s Ensemble Arion concerts will likely be dedicated to McClain’s memory. “He was so generous, so sincere, you can’t just say, oh well…”

After leaving Tafelmusik for Ensemble Arion in 1998, McClain had gone to live in Montreal for several years, where he left a deep impression. Lussier said that the oboist was gregarious and made friends wherever he went — including customs officers at the airports where he travelled most frequently. “But he looked for real contact, not just small talk,” added the bassoonist.

Although there probably isn’t a colleague or audience member who wasn’t struck by McClain’s natural warmth and fine musicianship, he appears to have been an intensely private individual. Lussier said he and McClain had spent many months of their lives together on tour. During one trip to Japan, they were roommates for three weeks. “Wash told me about his life, which was a miracle,” recalled Lussier. “He could have ended up in prison, but somehow ended up playing baroque oboe. He was the sweetest guy with the roughest childhood. It says something about his force of character and determination.”

“There are so many fond memories,” Tafelmusik music director Jeanne Lamon wrote in an email. “A very special one was when we were on tour in Athens performing at the Odeon theatre on the Acropolis. Wash spoke to the audience in fluent Greek, being the only one amongst us who knew any Greek, and the looks on their faces were priceless. ‘Surprise’ doesn’t even begin to describe it!”

I’m guessing that McClain was in his early 50s. There are no clear plans yet regarding a funeral or memorial service.

Above links were provided by Leslie Kwan, who writes:

Dear William,

I thought you should know about the passing of Washington McClain, the famous baroque oboist.  He was a revered colleague, had the biggest heart and the most wonderful chuckle. The early music world has lost a great star.

He was a dear friend. I will miss him.

Warmest regards,


Sergio Mims sends this link:

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