Las Vegas Sun

July 3, 2022

Currently: 102° — Complete forecast





UNLV oboe professor Stephen Caplan says he doesn’t bother playing the gaming tables here “because oboe in Las Vegas is as much of a gamble.”

Slot Machine Concerto

Beyond the Sun

Name: Stephen Caplan

Instrument: Oboe

Age: 50

Education: Bachelor’s in music performance, Northwestern University; master’s and doctorate from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Gigs: Principal oboe player for the Las Vegas Philharmonic, longtime member of the now dormant Sierra Winds. He’s performed across the country as a concerto soloist for more than 30 groups and performed recitals around the world.

Day job: Oboe professor at UNLV

Originally from: Alexandria, La.

Favorite music: Likes a variety of new music and “anything by Bach”

Why Vegas? There were no oboe majors at UNLV when Caplan arrived at the university 21 years ago. But the university’s resident ensemble, the Sierra Winds, needed an oboe player. He taught general music classes, oboe to a voice major, joined the now-defunct Nevada Symphony Orchestra, and played in the Sierra Winds, the city’s top classical ensemble at the time. “For us to be taken seriously we needed to prove ourself in New York, get a good review in The New York Times,” Caplan says. A couple of years later the group played Carnegie Hall to a favorable review in The New York Times. Part of the group’s mission was to help recruit students to UNLV. Caplan, who had planned to stay in Las Vegas for only a year or two (sound familiar?), stayed on at UNLV and became a tenured professor.

Being an oboist in Las Vegas: “There is no compulsion to play the tables because oboe in Las Vegas is as much of a gamble,” Caplan says with a laugh.

Despite the difficulty in making reeds in this climate, he says, Las Vegas presents ample opportunity to collaborate with composers, including UNLV’s composer in residence, Virko Baley, and to perform music that reflects the Southwest and Vegas (sounds of Zion National Park and casinos).

Caplan can rightly say that he is one of the few oboists in the world who “tuned” a slot machine when he performed a slot machine concerto with the Reno Philharmonic. (You can find the performance on

Recordings: Solo CD “A Tree in Your Ear,” performer on Phillip Bimstein’s “Larkin Gifford’s Harmonica” and Virko Baley’s chamber music CDs.

Family: He and his wife, Adrienne Valdespino, have three daughters, ages 11, 13 and 14.

Other interests: Writing a book and teaching courses on body mapping, a method to improve practicing and performing body habits of musicians. Enjoys family trips to local getaways: Great Basin and Zion National Parks.

Sticking around? Yes. “I enjoy being here. There are a lot of great musicians and composers in town. I love working with them.”

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