The accomplished baroque oboist and teacher Washington McClain passed away on Tuesday, February 26 at his home in Windsor, Ontario. Best known to Toronto audiences as a longtime member of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Wash – as he was known to his friends – was a brilliant player, gentle colleague and generous teacher. In recent years, he had been the principal oboist of the Arion Ensemble in Montreal and Apollo’s Fire Orchestra in Cleveland. Wash was an Assistant Professor of Music at Jacob’s School of Music at Indiana University and taught at numerous festivals and workshops across North America. He was a busy and avid chamber musician and was featured on numerous recordings. His final recording was a series of suites published in 1717 by the French composer Francois Chauvon. Released in 2012, it also featured flutist Alison Melville, violinist Julia Wedman, bassoonist Michael McCraw and harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger.
Wash appeared only once with Toronto Masque Theatre, as oboist in our 2007 double-bill of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and James Rolfe’s Aeneas and Dido. I did play with him in several other ensembles, however and, on one memorable occasion we performed the Concerto for Oboe and Violin by J.S. Bach. Musically, Wash was a dream to play with. His musicality, sense of rhythm, colour and blend made one feel air-born when making music with him. His musical communication was clear and direct, encouraging and free. I know how difficult it is to play the oboe – how much air it takes. However, Wash made it look and sound easy and I will always treasure the memories of listening to him and playing with him. There was no better feeling than to look over at Wash during a performance and have his big, smiling eyes look back at you.
While I didn’t know Wash well, we were friends and had occasion to have some long discussions. He was a learned man, deeply spiritual, full of humour and inquisitiveness: a great person to be around.
Our condolences go out to Wash’s family and his close friends, many of whom are former or current members of Tafelmusik. There has been talk of a memorial event and we’ll make those details known to our TMT family.

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