New York Philharmonic, dress rehearsal, January 29, 2009 (Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center)
Audiences at open rehearsals are routinely requested to observe monastic silence and to sit like statues in their seats until formally dismissed, but they seldom do. Applause for a big finish is common, as is the escalating buzz in the hall while the artists onstage still have notes to exchange. Thus it was at the New York Philharmonic after a spell-binding traversal of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 around lunch time on January 20. Radu Lupu, from Romania, was the soloist; the guest conductor was Riccardo Muti, the eminent Italian maestro the New York Philharmonic long sought in vain to engage as its music director.
Those perched near the podium could hear the beginning: something about because this was the last rehearsal on his current visit… Then the hubbub out front began. At that, Muti turned to the auditorium and spoke—conversationally, without a microphone, yet perfectly audibly—to the suddenly hushed crowd of retirees, school classes and other music lovers free of a weekday morning. This, as nearly I remember it, was his message.
"I'm sorry you couldn't hear what I was saying. For many years, I have had the pleasure of making music with this wonderful orchestra. Now, I have learned that at the end of this season, one of the players is retiring after 61 years. He began with the New York Philharmonic under the great conductor Bruno Walter, and he is still here. What is so important about this man is not just how well he plays his instrument. Every time I see him playing I can see the light in his eyes, the enthusiasm of someone discovering the music for the first time. Always, he tries to find a new way to play, a new nuance of expression. I have learned from my teachers when I was a student, and I have learned from listening to great conductors. But most of all, I have learned from the great musicians in orchestras around the world. Wind players in every great orchestra in the world know this man. He is a legend. I would like to thank him now, and to ask him to stand."
At which point, the clarinetist Stanley Drucker rose to his feet to a warm round of applause from his colleagues and the public.
Mr. Drucker joined the New York Philharmonic in 1948 at age 19, already with three years of serious professional experience on his résumé. Appointed principal clarinet as of the 1960-61 season, he carries himself with the quiet, unassuming self-possession of an antiquarian shopkeeper in old Greenwich Village, say, or an artisan-printer of quality stationery. No diva, but a craftsman in whose hands craftsmanship is a fine art.
His discography runs from Mozart, Brahms, and Nielsen to John Corigliano, whose Clarinet Concerto received its world premiere from the New York Philharmonic with Mr. Drucker as soloist. He also introduced the Clarinet Concerto of William Bolcom, featured in the New York Philharmonic Special Editions' boxed set, An American Celebration. In his final season, Mr. Drucker will be prominent at the New York Philharmonic in Mozart's sublime Clarinet Quintet (once only, at Avery Fisher Hall, April 4 at 2 p.m.) and in his farewell performances of Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto (June 5 at NJPAC, Newark, N.J.; June 4, 6, and 9 at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York; and June 19 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, Long Island University, Brookville, New York). For further particulars and tickets, visit www.nyphil.org.
But great ensemble players need no special billing to shine. Wind solos—in the sense of passages that arise from the orchestral texture like birdsong in the forest or a mystic message from the beyond—crop up throughout the symphonic literature. In the remaining months of the season, Mr. Drucker will have frequent occasions to contribute something special. Mr. Muti, who returns in the spring for an Italian program, is looking forward to Mr. Drucker's licks in the sparkling ballet music from Verdi's grand opera Les Vêpres Siciliennes (April 22-25).
Doubtless Mr. Drucker will be receiving many more formal plaudits in the months to come, but few, perhaps, more meaningful than Mr. Muti's impromptu tribute last week.