In musical news this week:
- Bloomberg’s, poking through the New York City Opera’s tax returns, berated them for their eleven million dollar 2008 deficit.
- London mayor Boris Johnson will distribute 31 free pianos to public places round the city, complete with laminated songbooks, in the hopes of encouraging impromptu sing-ins.
- The Basel Schola Cantorum used computer analysis to make a modern reproduction of an 8-foot-long trumpetlike medieval instrument, the lituus, of which no examples survive.
- Philadelphia Orchestra musicians volunteered to take a pay cut of almost five percent.
- The Cleveland Orchestra’s assistant director of choruses, Betsy Burleigh, started her new gig as music director of Boston’s Chorus Pro Musica.
- Kempton Park in Sunbury announced that they’d engaged England’s Royal Philharmonic to play Rossini’s William Tell Overture at a July horse race, to see if it would encourage the horses to run faster.
But the big news is that this weekend the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist, Stanley Drucker, will play his last concerto performances with the orchestra.
The clarinet and I go back a long way. It was the first orchestral instrument I ever heard and saw up close; I wasn’t even yet in school. In the half-century since then, I’ve grown to love the clarinet’s split personality, its dark chocolate low register and its scotch-on-the-rocks high register.
Few composers have exploited that timbral flexibility better than Aaron Copland did in his clarinet concerto, swinging the instrument from his trademark spare lonely-open-plains sound to a jazzy Chicago speakeasy jam and back again. Our own Cleveland Orchestra’s principal Franklin Cohen played it at Severance Hall almost exactly a year ago (May 2008), but the performance I’ll never forget was a Blossom concert in the early 1980s. Cohen was perhaps a half-dozen or so years with Cleveland then; he’d signed on in 1976. The season was late, the night cool, the audience a bit sparse, and that was exactly the right setting for the Copland. Unforgettable.
So I nodded when I read that Drucker would be playing the Copland for his last Philharmonic solos. Not only is it the clarinet personified, it’s one of Drucker’s trademark works. Stanley Drucker’s been an almost unprecedented 60 years with the Phil, and when he steps off that stage for the last time, he’ll have played the Copland in concert at least once for every one of those years.
Sixty years, 10 music directors, over 10,000 concerts. Stanley Drucker has played every one of them with enthusiasm and joy, and I’m betting he’ll apply the same attitude to his post-Phil musical life. (You don’t really think a musician stops playing when he retires, do you?)
Thanks for the long run, Mr Drucker. Thanks for the music. Thanks for the Copland, the Mozart, the Brahms, and much more. Enjoy your free time. And may our own Franklin Cohen give Northeast Ohio as many years of his artistry as you’ve given New York.