Meet the Musician

Longtime audiences will recognize Victoria Racz, who’s performed with PCSO many times over the last 20 years, and is currently serving a one-year term as principal oboe.

When did you first join PCSO?

Well, I’ve been affiliated with Portland Columbia Symphony for many years. It goes way back to when we first came to town around 1994-95, and my late husband, Timoteus, started playing violin with Columbia. I did some subbing, but my involvement was really around 2000 when Betsy Hatton brought me in to do some pre-concert talks. I actually did the pre-concert talk for Maestro John Trudeau’s final concert, and I asked to set it up as an interview with him in front of the audience. I wanted to make sure that the focus was on paying tribute to him, and I was honored to do it. And I came back at least one or two other times to help with fundraising appeals.

In 2007 or maybe ’08, I subbed principal [oboe] for two or three of those concerts. That was the first time Dagny [Rask Regan], Ann [van Bever] and I performed together, and we liked the experience so much that we ended up forming the Double Reed Divas! Since then I’ve been back a couple times to sub, either for principal oboe or English horn. And then I came on for this current season as Principal Oboist while Brad is on sabbatical. So I was in the Wind Quintet virtual concert in November, and played in the Mardi Gras virtual orchestra.

I’ve been so impressed with how PCSO has been handling COVID-19. These virtual concerts and livestreams have been very enjoyable, and the Mardi Gras-themed fundraiser was really fantastic! Luckily I got an early order in for one of the dinner packages since they sold out quickly, and my husband, James, and I dined while we watched the livestream. It’s been inspiring to see how the PCSO staff are handling all the changes COVID has brought our way, and how they are still managing to keep a sense of community with their orchestra members. Also, when our quintet performed for our video, the staff made a point to be sure all precautions were being followed so that everyone stayed safe and healthy. It was greatly appreciated!

How did you originally choose the oboe?

How much time do we have? Because that’s a whole thing!

Believe it or not, as a child I didn’t speak. I was very withdrawn. I was fine – I was living in my head, and it was a beautiful place. But I just didn’t engage with other people, so they always wanted to hold me back every year. So here we come up to fifth grade, and I’m still the same way. And that was the year that the band director came into our very small school and did the instrument demos. “Here’s a saxophone… here’s a trumpet…” We only had band, we didn’t have orchestra. And all the kids from the class went into the library where we would have a private one-on-one with the band director and tell him which of the presented instruments we wanted to play—because he only presented about five of them, I guess the five most popular instruments—but anyway, I went in to meet with him and I said, “I want to play the oboe.” My parents did not go to concerts, and we did not listen to classical music, so I really shouldn’t have had any idea what this strange, double reed instrument was. But somehow I did – I knew what it sounded like, and I knew I had to play it. It was actually very bizarre. And the band director said, “OK, we’ll start you on clarinet.” And it was really a turning point, because I said, “No, I want to play the oboe,” and I wouldn’t budge. It was like I found my voice— the oboe became my voice.

What is your favorite concert memory with PCSO?

It’s hard to say because I’ve kind of bopped in and out throughout such a huge timespan. All I can say is that I’ve known and performed with several PCSO members since I first moved here, and I never take it for granted when I have the opportunity to make music with other musicians that I respect and enjoy spending time with. We all want a positive work environment, after all, and the fact that my “work environment” includes the chance to play incredible music is a life choice and experience that I treasure.

How have you been able to engage with music since the pandemic hit?

Well, like other people, I’ve dived into this online world. I had made one video prior to all of this, and actually it was for [PCSO violinist] Erin Ferree’s daughter. Her daughter had said oboe was her favorite instrument, and so I decided I wanted to do something special for her. I asked Erin what her daughter’s favorite movie was, and was thrilled to learn it was The Wizard of Oz, since it’s also in my top three! So I made this one-minute video, just here in my teaching studio, where I created this medley of Wizard of Oz and sent it to her. I actually started my YouTube channel for it! I thought, “That was fun, but I’ll probably never make another one!” Well, since COVID started I’ve made all these videos! For example, some band directors have asked me to make teaching/demo videos for their students, and then I just completed this ten-video series for some band directors specifically for beginning/intermediate oboists. Actually, the second video I ever did is a fun four-minute demo video, and I compare the oboe, oboe d’amore, and English horn. I thought it would end up getting about 50 views – MAYBE – and I’m astonished that it’s gone over 1,000 views. I never thought that I’d have a video that would have an ad in front of it, since I don’t twerk! [laughs]

Has there been specific music – classical or otherwise – that you’ve turned to this year for comfort or resolve?

Yes, actually. Well, I’m addicted to Tiny Desk Concerts. I listened to three today while I was working on reeds! Black Pumas, Jazmine Sullivan, and I went back and listened to the one featuring Raveena because I’m a big fan of her sound and style. I love Eivør, also. She pretty much does the soundtrack for Last Kingdom, which I started watching because of Eivør, and I started out thinking, “I don’t know if it’s my kind of show,” but then was totally hooked! So some explorations of indie music. Also growing up I did a lot of jazz – jazz singing and sax, that kind of thing – so I have to confess that classical music is not the first genre I generally choose to listen to.

There is a piece that is particularly meaningful to me, however, and it turned out to be a really beautiful Christmas gift this year. My late husband’s amazing double reed trio, Trio Magnifique, was republished, and my first copy arrived on Christmas Day. So that’s been the best. The Double Reed Divas gave the premiere of it on February 13, 2008, at The Old Church in Portland, to a standing-room-only crowd with a lot of notables, such as Norman Leyden . . . a sort of who’s who! Anyway, that was an incredible gift.

Is there anything you have planned for 2021 that you’re especially looking forward to?

Well, when COVID hit, I actually had some really great things lined up. I had some solo appearances and some things I was really looking forward to that don’t come up very often in the “freelance” world. As with everyone else, I watched “that world” crumble away as each project got erased from the calendar, and now I’m just doing my best to stay flexible and positive as we all move forward. It just so happens that there are a couple of performances penciled on my calendar in the near future, but I’m not even going to run the risk of jinxing anything! Overall, my husband James and I are both grateful to be healthy and happy, and that we’ll be able to face whatever is coming together. No matter what 2021 brings us, we’ll spend time gardening, riding our bikes when the weather gets warmer, ballroom dancing, and continuing a new tradition of playing duos together! (He plays tuba.)

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Karl, and I hope to get a chance to play for PCSO audience members in person someday!