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Suppose you make your living playing a temperamental musical instrument that requires you to force your breath into a tiny hole between a pair of vibrating reeds. Now, suppose that when you finally get your big solo moment - in front of the orchestra instead of buried at its center - it's at an outdoor Deer Valley concert, fraught with the complications of high altitude and unpredictable weather.

Finally, suppose that along with the usual picnic crowd, the audience will contain hundreds of expert double-reed players from all over the world.

Such will be the challenges faced by Utah Symphony double-reed principals Robert Stephenson, Holly Gornik and Lori Wike on July 25, when each is featured in a concerto with the orchestra.

It's an intimidating situation, but these people are intrepid - as only musicians who must play exposed solo passages in performance after performance can be. They say they are ready to come out from behind the string section and take their place in the spotlight. Almost.

"We'll have to make sure we've got our best shirts on and that our shoes are polished," said Stephenson, Utah Symphony's principal oboist since 1980.

The presence of legions of double-reed players, in Utah this week for a convention of the International Double Reed Society, adds to the stress, Stephenson said. But as an oboist, he's used to pressure.

Whereas the challenge for most wind instrument players is in providing enough air, oboists contend with having more air in their lungs than they can force into their double-reed mouthpieces.

"You have to become good at holding your breath and releasing air at a slow speed," Stephenson said. "Oboes can play for long periods without a breath, so they often have long, extended solos."

While audiences are listening to the sweet, haunting sound of an oboe solo, the oboist is dealing with back-pressure that makes inexperienced players feel as if their heads are about to explode.

Composers write many solo passages for the other double-reed instruments, too, usually played in Utah Symphony concerts by Gornik (English horn) and Wike (bassoon).

"The sounds [double-reed instruments] make are clearly recognizable and incredibly important in almost every concert the orchestra gives," said Jeff Bram, the orchestra's artistic administrator. "You hear them in every concert, but don't often see their faces. Bringing them down front is really exciting - an opportunity for the audience to put faces and personalities with these sounds they've been hearing for their entire lives."

Associate conductor David Cho said the concert was planned with woodwind instruments as a theme. The opener will be Mozart's "Magic Flute" Overture, followed by concertos for oboe, English horn and bassoon. Beethoven's famous Fifth Symphony, which includes a signature oboe cadenza, rounds out the evening.

Wike said playing double-reed instruments is not for the faint-hearted. Besides needing the courage and humility to play solo after solo without being seen, players must deal with a unique bugaboo: their reeds. Most players make their own, an intricate art that takes years to master.

"The entire mouthpiece is the reed," Wike said. "Everything is dependent on what you are able to make. I spend hours and hours each week working on reeds. That's before doing my practicing, rehearsing and performing."

But even the best-made reeds are subject to uncontrollable variables, she added. "You can chip a reed. They're affected by weather changes. Humidity and air-pressure change can affect the way the reeds play. That's why you often see the double-reed players warming up early onstage. They're trying to find out which reed is going to work best for that night."

Wike said she's accustomed to the challenges posed by her chosen instrument and thrilled to be playing a solo performance. Gornik agrees, and said she's especially pleased to be giving the world premiere of "Excursions," by Utah composer Marie Nelson Bennett.

"It's a beautiful piece of music," Gornik said, noting that "Excursions" makes the most of the rich, warm sound that characterizes the English horn. "As contemporary music goes, it's very accessible to the listener. As much time as I've spent on it, I never grow tired of it."

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Robert Stephenson, principal oboe

Birthplace: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Years with Utah Symphony: 28

Personal: Father of three young-adult children. Stephenson married Utah Symphony flutist Lisa Byrnes on June 7. Enjoys ceramics, restaurants, movies and travel.

This week's solo performance: George Ritter's Oboe Concerto. It's neo-classical in style, he says, and notes that colorful percussion parts are prominent in the piece.

Holly Gornik, principal

English horn

Birthplace: Salt Lake City

Years with Utah Symphony: 35

Personal: Married to Utah Symphony trumpet player Ed Gornik; two children. Gornik is a prolific studio musician whose work can be heard on more than 300 film scores.

This week's solo performance: World premiere of "Excursions" by Utah composer Marie Nelson Bennett.

Lori Wike, principal bassoon

Birthplace: Fayetteville, N.C.

Years with Utah Symphony: 3

Personal: Along with music degrees and a performance certificate from Eatman School of Music in New York, Wike holds a master's degree in comparative literature.

This week's solo performance: Mignone's Concertino for Bassoon and Orchestra. Wike classifies Mgnones as a "major 20th-century Brazilian composer," who melds popular melodies and dance styles with classical music forms.

Sit back and enjoy a good reed

The Utah Symphony performs at 7:30 p.m. July 25 at the Deer Valley Outdoor Amphitheatre in Park City. Robert Stephenson, Holly Gornik and Lori Wike are featured soloists in this Deer Valley Music Festival concert; David Cho is the conductor.

* Reserved seats are $60; lawn seats are $30, $12 for students, $85 families; tickets $5 more if purchased on the day of the concert. For tickets and more information, call 801-355-ARTS or visit www.deervalley

* The concert coincides with a conference of the International Double Reed Society, which will draw hundreds of musicians from around the world to the Brigham Young University campus in Provo from July 22 to 26. For conference information, call 801-422-8925 or visit