On June 4, the clarinetist Stanley Drucker begins his final run of performances with the New York Philharmonic, which he joined just 60 years ago. A musician of undimmed elegance and expressivity, he recently sat down in the orchestra’s archives, where he sifted through a stack of photographs with near-total recall and not a trace of nostalgia.
With principal conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos.
“I joined the orchestra in 1948. I was 19. It was a men’s club—the music room was filled with pipe smoke, and there was a constant poker game going on. If I still had that tie, I’d put it on eBay.”
In the National Guard with violinist Sandor Balint.
“During the Korean War, you could join the National Guard and play in a band or get drafted and go dig a foxhole. I joined the Guard. We had musicians from the Metropolitan Opera, from the ballet companies, a timpanist from the National Symphony.”
Drucker’s first solo appearance.
“Lewisohn Stadium, up at 136th Street and Convent Avenue, was like a Greek amphitheater and could fit 20,000 people. We played six programs a week, all different—you really learned how to sight-read.”
After the Bicentennial tour of the USSR.
“I played the Copland Clarinet Concerto in Leningrad. Years later, Valery Gergiev, who’s conducted the Philharmonic many times, told me that he came to that concert as a student.”
With composer John Corigliano at the premiere of his Clarinet Concerto, written for Drucker.
“It was a wild piece, the most difficult thing I’d ever seen. We got five standing ovations in five concerts. I’m still playing it—I did it a few years ago with the Louisiana Philharmonic.”
With Leonard Bernstein in Berlin.
“That was December 23, two days before the concert at the Berlin Wall, where he had the singers substitute the word Freiheit [freedom] for Freude [joy] in Beethoven’s Ninth. We were at a party after a concert, and Lenny was imitating me playing the clarinet solo in the adagio movement.”
In Seoul during the Philharmonic’s Asian tour.
“See, eventually, I did go to Korea. I’ve played more than 10,000 concerts—more than two-thirds of the performances the Philharmonic has given since it was founded in 1842.”