Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you have just about ever heard a recording of the New York Philharmonic, you have definitely heard first clarinetist Stanley Drucker. That's because he's played with the philharmonic for the last 60 years, which is one-third of the orchestra's history.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And when Stanley Drucker retires at the end of this month, he will have played in over 10,200 concerts. And he'll be going out with a bang, as Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: Benny Goodman may have commissioned Aaron Copland's "Clarinet Concerto," but Stanley Drucker owns it. He's played it 59 times with the New York Philharmonic.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

Mr. STANLEY DRUCKER (Clarinetist, New York Philharmonic): The piece was written in the early '40s. It's got elements of jazz, in a way, though Benny Goodman always said play the eighth notes straight. Don't syncopate them. It's a piece that audiences react to, respond to.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

LUNDEN: Drucker will be standing in front of the Philharmonic for five more performances of the concerto, beginning this Thursday evening. It's the orchestra's way of paying tribute to its longest serving member ever. Mark Nuccio is associate principal clarinetist. He says Stanley Drucker is an iron man.

Mr. MARK NUCCIO (Associate Principal Clarinetist, New York Philharmonic Orchestra): Probably the most reliable colleague I've ever had the opportunity to work with. If he were to get sick, I would be the person who would have to come in and play at the last minute, and you can get kind of comfortable with Stanley Drucker because he just doesn't get sick.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

LUNDEN: Drucker may be an iron man, but when he started with the Philharmonic, he was a teenager. Born in Brooklyn, Drucker was a prodigy on the clarinet. And by the time he was 16, he was playing professionally with the Indianapolis Symphony. Two years later, he auditioned for the New York Philharmonic's legendary conductor Bruno Walter.

Mr. DRUCKER: I heard Walter say he would be a very valuable member of the orchestra. I heard him say that to somebody. And a week later, I got a letter, a contractual letter, and it took me about five seconds to sign it.

LUNDEN: So at the age of 19, Stanley Drucker found himself on the stage of Carnegie Hall for his first rehearsal. It was Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting.

(Soundbite of music, "Also Sprach Zarathustra")

Mr. DRUCKER: Well, I never heard anything like it. I mean, it was overwhelming, unbelievable. And, I, who thought I knew everything, found out quickly I didn't know anything. It was incredible hearing those soloists in the orchestra. Every rehearsal was a master class, where I could learn from some of these people.

LUNDEN: Drucker says the New York Philharmonic of the 1948-49 season was a men's club of mainly European musicians, almost entirely different from the Philharmonic of today.

Mr. DRUCKER: The backstage musician's room was filled with cigar and pipe smoke and poker. They played poker day and night, and chess. But today, we're more international, and certainly, the fact that we're half women and half men is a plus, because we have more choices of what the best is. And being New York, we manage to get pretty much the best.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

LUNDEN: Drucker has performed with 400 different conductors over the past 60 years, and 10 music directors. While he expresses affection for all of them, Leonard Bernstein clearly holds a special place in Drucker's heart.

Mr. DRUCKER: He wasn't only a conductor. I mean, he was a terrific pianist, a writer, a lecturer, teacher, composer. His era was one of innovation and a lot of imagination. It showed what the real ingredients are for a great performance, which are joy and passion. And he had that in spades.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

LUNDEN: And it's Stanley Drucker's joy for playing that impresses his colleagues, like Jon Deak, a 40-year veteran of the bass section who's retiring this June as well.

Mr. JON DEAK (Bass Section, New York Philharmonic Orchestra): He doesn't play any note straight. There's always a distinctive tone quality to what he produces. There's a certain edge and eagerness to his playing that just makes Stanley Stanley.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

LUNDEN: Over his 60-year tenure, the Philharmonic commissioned two pieces specifically for Drucker. One is John Corigliano's "Clarinet Concerto," a fiendishly difficult work. Corigliano says he tailored it specifically for Drucker's prodigious musical skills.

Mr. JOHN CORIGLIANO (Composer): When I showed Stanley the first movement of the concerto, it was the only time I've ever seen him in his life look terrified, because he could read anything and he could play anything, but I brought in the first movement and showed him his part and his eyes got very big. And he said, how am I going to play this? And I said, well, you can play it, Stanley, you know. And he said, it looks impossible.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

Mr. CORIGLIANO: And then he started playing it, and of course in no time at all, he found that he could not only play it, but that it sounded like a million dollars when he did.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

LUNDEN: Stanley Drucker's final performance with the New York Philharmonic will be Mahler's Eight Symphony on June 27.

Once that's done, what are you going to do?

Mr. DRUCKER: What I've always done. I'm a player. I'm going to play.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of music, "Clarinet Concerto")

INSKEEP: Ah, you can hear more of Stanley Drucker's performances with the New York Philharmonic and also you can hear him talking about some of the famous conductors he's played under by going to nprmusic.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.