In tribute to Karen O’Connor

It is with great sadness that present and past members of our orchestra and staff mourn the passing of Karen O’Connor, Principal Oboe during the Rattle and Oramo years, and much-loved member of our ensemble.  

There will be a small private cremation service today (1 July) and her family have suggested donations in lieu of flowers as a way to remember Karen and support to the hospice, where she received exemplary care and compassionate medication.  Cheques made payable to Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice can be sent by post to: St Mary’s Hospice, 176 Raddlebarn Road, Selly Park, Birmingham B29 7DA.

The CBSO will be dedicating a future concert to Karen’s memory.  

Along with the whole CBSO community, I was very saddened to hear of the death last month of our former oboist Karen O'Connor. Karen was the very model of a committed CBSO all-rounder: a wonderful musician and passionate advocate of all that is important in our musical life. She also made a huge contribution in her time on the CBSO Board, in her BCMG work and in her second career as a performance coach.  She will be greatly missed by all of us.
Stephen Maddock (CBSO Chief Executive)

My connection with Karen, both as a colleague and a friend, has made my life richer. Karen gave me the most amazing support when I began in the CBSO, and she remained someone whom I could always count on and trust. An immense work ethic and level of professionalism was combined with a level of warmth rarely seen. She will be sorely missed and it was my privilege to have known her.
Rainer Gibbons (CBSO Section Leader Oboe)

Karen O’Connor was BCMG’s oboe player for many years, giving many world premiere performances of new works.  She joined the CBSO in the Simon Rattle era and after playing with them for 25 years she left to become an expert in performance training, leading a pioneering coaching programme at Birmingham Conservatoire and equipping performers in the UK and abroad with the mental skills required to perform in high pressure situations.  Karen was a wonderfully warm and generous colleague and will be much missed.
Stephen Newbould (BCMG Artistic Director)


Choosing Karen for the second oboe job from several fine players was incredibly easy for Richard Weigall, the first oboe, and myself. Karen's preparation was perfect, and, on her trial within the Orchestra, she listened to and blended with Richard and me and the whole woodwind section as if she had known us all for years. Throughout our time together in the oboe section, I knew that, as long as I was prepared, all would be well, due to Karen's self motivation and conscientious attitude. She was equally eloquent on second oboe, first oboe and cor anglais, and I would always look forward to pieces like the St Matthew Passion for those wonderful cor duets. Her playing always enhanced the sounds of all around her.

The positive vibes that exuded from Karen when I was left alone with an exposed cor solo were always tangible, and she seemed to know when I needed space and, conversely, when it was appropriate for a chat and a laugh. We enjoyed countless hilarious moments, with her imitations of Joyce Grenfell, and mine of John Arlott feeding off each other. The music of Berlioz was always "As fresh as the day it was written" to us.
Since retiring I have often wondered what all that time in the CBSO would have been like without Karen as a wise colleague and friend, and this does not bear thinking about. Since she also retired, Karen, Chris, my wife Suzie and myself enjoyed many riveting visits to the Birmingham Rep where we absorbed terrific plays and actors, and were looking forward to many more such occasions, sadly not to be. 

Thanks Karen for popping up at just the right moment for us all.

Peter Walden (CBSO Principal Cor Anglais, 1973-2009)  

About Karen

After completing her oboe studies at the Royal Northern College of Music, Karen joined the Orchestra of Opera North in Leeds and six years later was invited by Sir Simon Rattle to join the internationally-acclaimed City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), where she held the post of Principal Oboe for over 25 years.

During her playing career, she performed in many of the world’s greatest concert halls including Carnegie Hall New York, Suntory Hall Tokyo, Vienna’s Musikverein, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Berlin’s Philharmonie, and Symphony Hall Birmingham. Karen also undertook guest engagements with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the World Philharmonic and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Whilst carrying out her busy performing schedule, Karen began to investigate how elite performers like professional musicians, might learn from the mental training regimes embraced by sports psychology, and develop the skill of mental toughness, such that performing under pressure is something to be anticipated and planned for, not feared. Her investigations subsequently led her into a ground-breaking area of work with professional and student performers.