A Vail encore for a historic career
VAIL, Colorado – The numbers that describe career of Stanley Drucker, who will be with the New York Philharmonic in Vail Friday, are staggering, even to Drucker himself.
After the final encore has been played July 31 in Vail, the retiring clarinetist will have performed more than 10,200 concerts with the New York Philharmonic. That represents about 70 percent of the Philharmonic’s performances since its founding in 1842.
“I don’t know who they’re talking about, but I guess I did it,” Drucker joked. “If they say so.”
The New York Philharmonic begins its yearly residency in Vail Friday night at the Ford Amphitheater as part of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.
After the orchestra’s six concerts here, Drucker will retire from the Philharmonic, which he joined in 1948.
“I feel I’ve been very fortunate,” Drucker said this week from New York, a day before he was to leave for Vail. “I’m happy because my memory bank is full. I’ve got great memories of all these performances and marvelous tours and the great musicians that I’ve played with.”
Drucker has played under 10 music directors, from Bruno Walter to Alan Gilbert, who officially takes the reins this fall.
Leonard Bernstein (1958-69) was “a man who never could be replaced.” Dimitri Mitropoulos (1949-1958) was “a visionary, an incredible supporter of new music, who had a tremendous ability to conduct the most complex things.” Under Pierre Boulez (1971-77), “the orchestra learned how to play works that had never been played before.”
“We were lucky in New York to have each of these people come when they did, and have such a mixture of musical taste and ability,” Drucker said.
Drucker, 80, is a New York native who joined the orchestra at the age of 19 after short stints with orchestras in Buffalo and Indianapolis. He was named principal clarinet in 1960 by Bernstein.
Today’s Philharmonic is much more diverse than the one he joined in 1948. Then, it was all men, and mostly Europeans.
“Each era had its specialties of certain works that were studied and performed,” he said. “I would say the orchestra today is as fine as it’s ever been. It’s got some great players. Players that are capable of any kind of performance.”
Colleagues have praised Drucker for his ability to keep a freshness in his performances, even after playing them for decades.
“You are one of the few people around who is still a stylist, and who knows what style means,” said Newton Mansfield, a violinist with New York Philharmonic, in a recent video tribute to Drucker. “One can feed you a phrase by Berlioz or Bach or Vivaldi and by the time it comes out, it’s something that was written by Drucker.”
His ability to retain compositions in his head is remarkable. In May, he was called on at the last moment to fill in as first clarinet chair for Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. All he needed was a quick scan of the part.
Another time, when singer Jessye Norman canceled a performance at the last moment, Drucker was called on to play a Mozart concerto.
“I said, ‘I’m going to run up to the library and get the music,'” longtime orchestra personnel manager Carl Schiebler recalled in the video tribute. “Stanley says, ‘The music? For what?’ I said, ‘For the clarinet concert, for the Mozart.’ He said, ‘What do I need music for? I haven’t used music for that since I was 17.'”
Drucker said the highlights of his career include a 1977 world premiere of John Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto, which was written specifically for Drucker and Bernstein.
“It was the most exciting week of my life,” Drucker said of the premiere.
Drucker won’t be putting down his clarinet for good. He plans to still play chamber music and solo, and perhaps teach some master classes.
“It’s been a great ride for me, I must say,” Drucker said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: New York Philharmonic opening night.
Where: Ford Amphitheater, Vail.
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Alan Gilbert, conductor.
Nathan Gunn, baritone.
Mozart: Arias for Baritone and Orchestra.
Copland: “Old American Songs” for Baritone and Orchestra.
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “Titan Classical – Opening Night.”
Cost: Reserved seats are $63 adn $85 and lawn seats are $23.
More information: Visit http://www.vailmusicfestival.org or call 877-812-5700.