Appointed Principal Oboe of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra by David Robertson in December 2013, Jelena Dirks is the third generation of professional, female musicians in her family. A San Diego native, she grew up in a profoundly musical household. Her mother, retired Chicago Symphony Violist Karen Dirks, as well as her father and maternal grandmother (who were both cellists and stand partners in the San Diego Symphony) made sure music was a part of her life from the beginning. As a youth, Dirks spent many hours dancing ballet and playing the piano, until at age eleven, she ceaselessly begged her parents for an oboe when her soon-to-be first oboe teacher told her “she would make a perfect oboist.”
Dirks was on the faculty of DePaul University from 2005-2014 where she taught both piano and oboe and was the woodwind coordinator. Known for her “luminous solos” (Chicago Classical Review), she is highly sought after as both a teacher and performer, having performed with virtually every major musical group in Chicago, including Lyric Opera, the Chicago Philharmonic, the Chroma Chamber Orchestra, and five years of regular performances, tours, and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She plays chamber music whenever possible and was the oboist for the critically acclaimed Prairie Winds Quintet from 2003-2016. She was also a frequent guest artist on the CSO Chamber Music Series, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, and is a frequent guest artist on the Missouri Chamber Music Festival in St. Louis.
Having graduated Summa Cum Laude with dual Bachelor’s degrees in both oboe and piano from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Dirks went on to receive dual Master’s degrees in Piano and Oboe Performance from the University of Michigan. She studied with Logan Skelton, A. DeWayne Wee, Doris Koppelman, Alex Klein, Harry Sargous, Merilee Klemp, Peggy Michel, and David McGill among others. While oboe is now the heart and soul of her musical life in St. Louis, the piano still holds a special place as her first love (she can very occasionally be heard practicing when she thinks no one can hear).
Dirks lives in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis with her husband, Aaron, a wine professional (they met in the University of Michigan Symphonic Band) and their puppy, Dipper, who is keeping them entertained and busy! All three of them enjoy gardening and restoring their 1895 home together.