Where are they now?
Alex Kinmonth: fourth-grade choice leads to Detroit Symphony
by Anne Marie Brako
|Alex Kinmonth plays “Concerto for Oboe” by John Williams under the direction of Conductor Leonard Slatkin. It’s the first time the oboist had ever performed the piece. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Symphony Orchestra)|
Every year, fourth graders at the Carlisle Public School choose among band instruments. For some, it may be a brief experience in learning to play a musical instrument. For others, it’s a segue into middle school and high school band competition. For all, it’s an important experience in how to work as a team. And then there are the select few who can make a career as a professional musician.
“I wanted to play the trumpet or sax,” says Alex Kinmonth, former Carlisle student and today’s principal oboist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
When Kinmonth saw a crowd around the brass instruments, he decided to try something that no one else would choose. Both his parents played instruments, so the young boy wanted to make his parents proud. He had begun studying the violin at the age of five, but that wasn’t a choice. Kinmonth headed over to the woodwinds and picked up an oboe.
Kinmonth joined the band. He quickly learned that playing the oboe required more than just practicing. He also had to make his own reeds to fit his oboe. The musician blows into a woodwind instrument, and a reed splits the airstream to make sound.
“I am a pretty crafty type,” says the musician. By sixth grade, he was spending half his time with the oboe fashioning reeds for it.
Private lessons, dedication and sheer talent enabled Kinmonth to develop quickly as a musician. He excelled in the Carlisle School and Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) bands, as well as participating in the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. Kinmonth took classes at the New England Conservatory. He made time for sports like fencing and soccer, but admitted that most of his friends over the years have been woodwind players. After graduating from CCHS, his musical talent won him admission to the Julliard School.
| Alex Kinmonth (center) flanked by his proud parents, Janet and Bruce.
(Photo courtesy of Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
Kinmonth made his mark in New York. He performed with the Julliard Orchestra and the New Julliard Ensemble. He worked with conductors such as Kurt Mazur, James Levine and Japp Van Zwedon. Oboe players also play the English Horn, and Kinmonth was a substitute with both instruments at the Metropolitan Opera.
After graduating from Julliard, Kinmonth faced the challenge of finding a job in a field with limited opportunities. His resume and recordings gained him an invitation to compete in the blind auditions for the Principal Oboe of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) for the 2015 season. The audition process had a series of anonymous stages: the “preliminaries,” the “semi-finals,” and the “finals.” Kinmonth made it through each one, and finally advanced to the blind “super-finals.” He earned the DSO job, and now is in in his fourth year with the orchestra.
There are four oboists at the orchestra: principal, assistant principal, 2nd oboe and English Horn. He says he likes the “healthy competition” with others in his section. Still, he conceded that his focus is “competing with myself” and “trying to do better.” He said that at the DSO he has learned a lot about “my sound” and how to blend better with others in the orchestra.
“I would like to become a better leader,” he says of his future goals. He enjoys living in Detroit, and has watched the city change and grow in his four years there.
The DSO season runs 43 weeks. Kinmonth spends 1—2 hours a week studying and practicing scores, and makes reeds for the same amount of time. He also has orchestra rehearsals.
Last summer, in his time “off,” Alex crossed the country to perform in the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego. He also came back to Massachusetts for the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox.
Music brings the family together
In May 2007, as an eighth grader, Kinmonth participated in the MICCA Solo and Ensemble Festival, playing a violin solo in the morning and an oboe solo later in the day. He won a gold medal for each of his two instruments. His oboe performance was deemed good enough to get him invited to the MICCA Honors Recital. (Courtesy photo)
Love for music at the Kinmonth family home on Page Brook Road goes on. In his free time, Kinmonth’s father plays violin for the Concord Orchestra, and his mother plays flute and owns the company Keefe Piccolos. In February, the Kinmonths traveled to Detroit to attend a celebration of composer John Williams which included an oboe solo by their son.
“It’s not very often that I get to be at the front of the orchestra,” says Kinmonth. “It’s very inspiring to hear my colleagues support me both on and off the stage while we prepared.”
DSO conductor Leonard Slatkin led a program that included four works by Williams: “Liberty Fanfare,” “Pops on the March,” “Concerto for Oboe,” and “Selected Film Music.” Although the crowd-pleasing final selection brought smiles and cheers from the audience, there’s little doubt what part the Carlisleans liked best. ∆