The renowned American oboist, John Wilfred Mack, John Wilfred Mack was born in Somerville, New Jersey, where his father was a Presbyterian minister. He played piano and violin before switching to the oboe in the sixth grade. He attended the Juilliard School of Music the in New York, where he played first oboe with the orchestra and studied under Harold Gomberg, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra principal oboist. After Juilliard, he graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. There, he met an important mentor, Marcel Tabuteau, who had been the longtime principal oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Leopold Stokowski. From Tabuteau, Mack learned impeccable technique and an elegant way with phrasing that he called "cosmopolitan."
John Mack's first professional experience was with the Sadler Wells Ballet's American tour in 1951-1952. Afterwards he was appointed principal oboist of the New Orleans Symphony for 11 seasons. He taught briefly at Louisiana State University, and then played with the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, DC) from 1963 to 1965. He was also principal oboist at the Casals Festivals in Prades and Perpignan, France. At Prades he met George Szell, the legendary conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, who admired Mack's playing
John Mack was appointed by George Szell as principal oboist of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965, succeeding Marc Lifschey. "A lot of people didn’t like working with him because he was tough," Mack said of Szell. "I loved him. As demanding as he was, it seemed to me always for the sake of the music. It was never for self-aggrandizement." After Szell died in 1970, he was succeeded by Lorin Maazel, whom Mr. Mack did not always appreciate. He he told the New Yorker magazine: "During an oboe solo in the Brahms First, he asked me to play a high D pianissimo, a dynamic marking that was not in the score. When I asked why, he said, ‘Off the top of my head, I thought it would be beautiful.’ His whim was more important than Brahms' reasoned judgment." Under von Christoph von Dohnányi, Lorin Maazel's sucessor, Mack celebrated his 25th anniversary with the Cleveland Orchestra, performing the world premiere of a commissioned Oboe Concerto by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The oboist went on to record the work with Louisville’s symphony. He retired from playing in 2001 after 36 the Cleveland Orchestra years as his eyesight worsened. He toured and recorded with the organization under these three demanding conductors.
In 1979, New York Times classical music critic Harold C. Schonberg named John Mack among the top three oboists in the country. The oboe’s piercing, slightly nasal tone makes it one of the most distinctive sounds in classical ensembles. Great concentration and breath control are required to keep the oboe in tune. "If you’re going to play the oboe, you have to have elementary bravery, or you’re in big trouble," Mack told a Cleveland reporter in 2001. "Some of them are nutty, wild and unreasonable. I call myself a quintessential Cleveland Orchestra player - orthodox, but zippy, and nonwacko. I hate wacko."
"Teaching," Mack once said, "is close to a sacred duty." He was the Chairman of Oboe Studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and served on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in New York and Hartt School in Hartford. He gave master-classes nationwide and was also long affiliated with the Kent/Blossom Music program at Ohio’s Kent State University. He also taught at the John Mack Oboe Camp (JMOC), a yearly summer event established by Mack's student and former principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Joseph Robinson, in Little Switzerland, North Carolina, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mack began the JMOC in 1976 to give more people access to excellent oboe teaching and mentoring. The teaching legacy that Mack inspired and instilled is a summer tradition at Wildacres Retreat. A long-standing institution for many oboists, the camp has seen the "who's who" of oboists pass through its doors. He tried to put nervous students at ease with his teasing suggestions. "When in doubt in Brahms, keep the tone going," Mack once said. "You’re up against all those string players who don't like you."
John Mack died in Cleveland, Ohio of brain cancer at the age of 78. Since his death the JMOC has been run by Danna Sundet of Cleveland, Ohio; she is the director of JMOC, principal oboe of the Erie Philharmonic, as well as the Professor of Oboe at Kent State University.