N.Y. Philharmonic Bids Farewell To Clarinetist When clarinetist Stanley Drucker retires from the New York Philharmonic at the end of June, he will have played in more than 10,200 concerts, with 400 different conductors, over a 60-year tenure.

N.Y. Philharmonic Bids Farewell To Clarinetist

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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.


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.


STANLEY DRUCKER: 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.


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.

MARK NUCCIO: 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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

JON DEAK: 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.


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.

JOHN CORIGLIANO: 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.


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.


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

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.


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

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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