Oskar Espina Ruiz has been described by the press as a “masterful soloist” (La Nación, Costa Rica) and a “highly expressive clarinetist” (Nevskoye Vremia, Russia). He has performed at major concert halls and festivals to high critical acclaim, including concerto performances at the Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and recitals in New York City, Washington DC, Moscow, Madrid, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
He has appeared as soloist with the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony (Russia), St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic (Russia), Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica de la Ciudad de Asunción (Paraguay) and Bilbao Symphony (Spain).
His chamber music collaborations include the American, Argus, Ariel, Cassatt, Daedalus, Escher, Penderecki, Shanghai, Ulysses and Verona Quartets, the Quintet of the Americas, Merz Trio, Reverón Trio, pianists Misha Dichter, Benjamin Hochman, Ursula Oppens and Anthony Newman, and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra artists. He has been featured as soloist at the 20th Tokyo Summer Festival, the European Mozart Academy —performing throughout European capitals—the St. Petersburg Palaces XIII. International Music Festival (Russia) and the VI. Festival Internacional de Música Clásica Contemporánea de Lima (Perú). He has recorded for the Bridge, Kobaltone and Prion labels, receiving high critical acclaim by fellow clarinetists Richard Stoltzman and Charles Neidich for his solo recording “Julián Menéndez Rediscovered.”
Summer 2023 included his Casals Festival debut as soloist with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, praised by El Nuevo Día for his “masterful virtuosity;” a Music Mountain performance of the complete Brahms Clarinet Sonatas with pianist Misha Dichter; a Laurier University QuartetFest performance with the Penderecki String Quartet in Canada; and a performance with the Ulysses Quartet that The Millbrook Independent praised for “the generous, tender warmth of Oskar Espina Ruiz’s blooming clarinet.”
Oskar Espina Ruiz opened the 2023-2024 season performing clarinet quintets by Mozart and Coleridge-Taylor with the Penderecki String Quartet in North Carolina, where CVNC described Espina Ruiz’s clarinet as “bubbling up through the strings like champagne bubbles in a narrow glass.” Other highlights of the season include Valerie Coleman’s Clarinet Quintet with the Balourdet String Quartet, the release of his premier performance of Seth Grosshandler’s Suite for Clarinet Quintet; and other concerts with the Poulenc Trio, pianist Shari Santorelli, and UNCSA colleagues, exploring the music of living composers Eleanor Alberga, Jennifer Higdon, Valerie Coleman and Gabriela Lena Frank.
Espina Ruiz devotes much of his time to musical research. His work on Spanish Post-Romantic composer Julián Menéndez brought him the first prize of the International Clarinet Association Research Competition, later writing an article for The Clarinet magazine, and led to the acquisition of one of Menéndez’s clarinets by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for its Musical Instruments Galleries —currently on display at its permanent collection, including a photo and biography of Menéndez next to Benny Goodman’s.
Espina Ruiz is deeply involved with the music of our time and has premiered works written for him by Japanese composers Shin-Ichiro Ikebe and Yasuhide Ito, Chinese composers Changqun Ao and Chien-Yin Chen, Spanish composers Imanol Bageneta, Alba Torremocha and Carlos Villasol, French composer Pascal Gaigne, Puerto Rican composer Alfonso Fuentes, and American composers Michael Anderson, Tyson Davis, Lawrence Dillon, Cristina Spinei, and Dan Weymouth. He is a champion of new music, performing works for small ensembles by living composers Kalevi Aho, Eleanor Alberga, Viet Cuong, Christopher Cerrone, Osvaldo Golijov, Carolina Heredia, Jennifer Higdon, James Lee III, Gabriela Lena Frank, David Ludwig, Bright Sheng, Isabel Urrutia, and many others.
In an effort to bring important works and revisions into the clarinet repertoire, in 2003 Espina Ruiz performed the South American premiere of the original Copland Clarinet Concerto, reconstructed from the manuscripts at the Library of Congress. His orchestrations and adaptations for clarinet include Ravel’s Sonate Posthume and works by Arriaga, Falla, Granados, Guridi, Isasi, Sarasate, and Turina, as well as other arrangements such as Debussy’s String Quartet, for woodwind quintet (with baritone sax instead of horn), and his orchestration of Menéndez’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2.
Born in Bilbao, Spain, his first musical training came at an early age, performing on Basque folk instruments, a fipple flute and drum, or “txistu” and “tamboril.” He later pursued the traditional conservatory training as a clarinetist and appeared with the Bilbao Symphony, as its youngest sub, from age sixteen. He came to New York City in 1991 to further his studies in clarinet at Mannes School of Music, and later won the top clarinet prizes at the Artists International and Olga Koussevitzky international competitions. He was a member of the New York Youth Symphony, performing three concerts a year at Carnegie Hall.
He holds an MFA from the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, and a DMA from Stony Brook University, where his major teachers were Charles Neidich and Ayako Oshima. While at the European Mozart Academy, flutist Aurèle Nicolet was one of his coaches and mentors. From 2009 to 2011 he was on the clarinet faculty at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, in San Juan, PR, and since 2011 is clarinet artist-faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, currently serving as associate professor, in Winston-Salem, NC.