Alex Klein’s latest solo recording, 20th Century Oboe Sonatas, has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of “Producer of the Year” in recognition of Jim Ginsburg of Cedille Records. Klein is among the world’s most famous oboe players and former principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This is Klein’s first full-length solo album since his career was devastated by focal dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes loss of dexterity and persistent pain in his left hand. Klein is a member of the advisory board for Musicians With Dystonia, a program of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation dedicated to serving the special needs of musicians affected by focal dystonia.
“This is an album I’ve wanted to do all life: to go on the record (so to speak) with the pieces that are the meat and potatoes of oboe playing, plus a few more that are personally important to me… They are all part of my personal history of oboe playing,” Klein said in his artist statement. “I have a certain nostalgia besides the one caused by age: focal dystonia brought a significant burden to my life and led me to rebuild my playing. Still, I don’t know how long I have left to play oboe.”
Focal dystonia is a neurological disorder characterized by abnormal muscle movements and postures, often triggered by specific, repetitive actions such as writing or playing an instrument. Musicians are prone to developing dystonia in muscles in use while performing, namely the embouchure, hand, fingers. The early signs of musician’s dystonia are lapses in the instinctive ability to perform on the instrument, often progressing to a dramatic decline in the individual’s fine motor control. The disorder has gained attention for derailing the careers of high-profile musicians like Klein, including legendary pianists Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman, and guitar virtuoso Billy McLaughlin. Focal dystonia in musicians can be challenging to treat medically. Musical retraining, botulinum neurotoxin neurotoxin or rehabilitation may help.
Klein won a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Instrumental Solo Performance (with Orchestra) for his recording of Richard Strauss’s oboe concerto with conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His Cedille Records discography includes Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century, and contemporary oboe works.
Photo from CSO Sounds and Stories. Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016.
The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing research for improved dystonia treatments and ultimately a cure, promoting awareness, and supporting the well-being of affected individuals and families.