Praised for her “dazzling technique and soulful expressiveness,” (Rocky Mountain News), and a musical approach that’s “distinctly sensual…pliant, warm, and sweet,” (New York Times), Debra Nagy is one of North America’s leading performers on the Baroque oboe. A dedicated chamber musician, Debra is the founder of Les Délices and indulges her love of late-medieval music as a regular guest with Boston’s acclaimed Blue Heron and Chicago’s Newberry Consort. Debra has received many awards for her creative and scholarly pursuits, including first-prize in the American Bach Soloists Young Artists Competition and a 2010 Creative Workforce Fellowship from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. Debra is also an unabashed foodie and loves commuting by bike from her home in the heart of Cleveland’s historic Ohio City neighborhood.

Today, Debra is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to learn more about Debra’s flavorful passion outside of performance…

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

If I weren’t a musician, I’m pretty sure (at this point) that I would be a cook. As a kid, I might have told you that I would be a marine biologist, but somehow I’ve developed a penchant for activities that (besides creativity and a dedication to craft) seem to require hard work, long hours, and the development of a thick skin! Seriously, though, I think about cooking professionally sometimes and I recognize it as another outlet for my creativity, as a different sort of performance, and as an opportunity to share what I care about with others.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

One of the most fun things about directing an ensemble and creating new programs is the opportunity to be aspirational when it comes to potential collaborators! I feel lucky to have had a few dream collaborations as a performer—working leaders in the field, incredible improvisers, and musicians who are truly spontaneous. While I’m particularly interested in international collaborations (and the opportunity to work with musical mentors is always a thrill), it would be really fun to collaborate with someone incredible outside the early music specialty. Chick Corea? Or outside music altogether: I’m scheming about collaborations with dancers and visual artists at the moment…

Do you have any specific hopes about what this album will mean to listeners?

I think that as listeners (really, as humans!) we work to organize, classify, and otherwise make sense of the world around us. Often, that means assigning categories and saying “this belongs there,” or “this does/sounds/works like that.” It’s a kind of pigeonholing and we all do it. My hope is that this album blows open some of those conceived notions, so that listeners will simply be moved and inspired by the vocality and the expression of the performances. It’s not “a baroque oboe playing vocal music,” or “a viola da gamba playing jazz,” but 21st-century musicians responding to the world around them to create something that you haven’t heard (or perhaps even thought possible) before—and that defies easy categorization.

Live Action a3

What were your first musical experiences?

I’m a bit foggy about my first musical experiences. I don’t come from a musical family, but somehow I got it into my head at age 5 that I needed to play the piano. That launched me and I remember some of those early piano lessons very clearly—particularly “memorizing” my first piece (where apparently, I relearned a whole song by ear in a different key). I started oboe at age 9 and my teacher had me playing all sorts of Baroque sonatas and concertos (instead of etudes). It really stoked a love for and interest in early music—well before I had any idea that there was such a thing as a Baroque oboe!

What are your other passions besides music?

I’m definitely incredibly passionate about food and cooking!! I also love walking—in the woods, in a meadow, in an urban environment. The opportunity to listen, smell, observe, and develop a sense of place as you move through space on your own steam. I just think that’s a wonderful thing about being alive!


SONGS WITHOUT WORDS will be available through Navona Records for streaming or purchase on November 9. Click here to pre-order.


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