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Interview: Legendary Clarinetist Stanley Drucker to Appear with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony will be kicking off its 15th anniversary season with a pair of concerts featuring the world renowned clarinetist Stanley Drucker in a performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. The concerts will be held on Saturday, November 8th at 8PM and Sunday, November 9th at 3PM at All Saints Church, 230 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in New York City.

Recently, David Bernard, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony's music director, sat down with Stanley Drucker to discuss his illustrious career, Mozart and life after 60 years with the New York Philharmonic.

David Bernard: As a clarinetist growing up in the New York City area, I so fondly remember your performances with the New York Philharmonic, both live, and simulcast on TV. What are your most memorable experiences over your 60 years with the New York Philharmonic?

Stanley Drucker: There were so many. Performing the world premiere of the Corigliano Clarinet Concerto with Leonard Bernstein, recording both the Corigliano Concerto and the Nielsen Concertos, touring with the orchestra around the world. Perhaps the most memorable was performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Berlin when the wall came down. That was incredible.

DB: I've listened to your Corigliano and Nieslen recordings frequently. They are inspiring. What were the greatest influences on your playing?

SD: It was Benny Goodman who inspired me to take up the clarinet when I was 10 . It wasn't so much the Jazz itself, but simply the sound that Goodman got from the instrument grabbed me from the first time I listened to his playing. When I joined the New York Philharmonic at such a young age, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the incredible musicians around me. Working with Concertmaster, John Corigliano, Sr., Principal Oboist Harold Gomberg and Principal Horn James Chambers, each rehearsal and performance was its own masterclass for me. The experience of working with the greatest orchestral musicians and conductors of my time had a huge influence on my growth as a musician.

DB: The list of conductors you have worked with is astounding. Please share your thoughts on the conductors who have led the New York Philharmonic during your tenure.

SD: I had the privilege of working with many great conductors. Zubin Mehta was an excellent conductor who was always prepared and made great eye contact with the musicians of the orchestra. Dimitri Mitropoulos was a great performer, musical mind, and humanitarian. Pierre Boulez was wonderful -- he taught us how to play music we had never seen before. And then there was Leonard Bernstein. Lenny was truly remarkable. Everything he touched was a brilliant success -- inspired, eventful, warm and exciting, as both a conductor and a composer.

DB: Did Lenny ever discuss writing a clarinet concerto for you?

SD: While Lenny was just too busy to write a clarinet concerto, he did arrange for John Corigliano to write one, and then insisted on conducting the premiere! I think that the Corigliano Concerto is the hardest piece ever written for the clarinet. The Nielsen concerto has been considered the hardest. But the Corigliano has passages of great technical difficulty, very fast staccato passages and high notes played super soft. And in the slow movement, it seems like you're playing forever without breathing. It takes a lot of strength-but it always gets a standing ovation.

DB: Clarinetists are so fortunate to have the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in their repertoire. It is the crowning achievement of Mozart's prolific concerto canon -- a sublime, introspective work that never fails to please. Most clarinetists encounter this work relatively early in their career, and it becomes a mainstay of their musical lives. What were your earliest experiences with the Mozart Concerto and what are your thoughts on how the work should be approached?

SD: My first performance was when I was 15 years old with the National Orchestral Association conducted by Leon Barzin. One Summer in the 1980s I performed the Mozart Concerto in all Five Boroughs of New York City as part of the New York Philharmonic outdoor concerts! In terms of interpretation, there's no absolute right or wrong. I want to see the audiences' faces and hear the applause. It is important to have the sensitivity and imagination to determine what a piece should sound like, to try to create some kind of atmosphere, but to never play it through twice exactly the same way. You try for the impossible, a chemistry that will express something you want to express.

DB: After 60 years with the New York Philharmonic, including 10 music directors, 191 solo appearances and 10,200 concerts, you deserve a rest -- But you keep a busy schedule! What is next for you?

SD: I am very busy performing both solo and chamber music concerts and teaching master classes. I am enthusiastic about teaching, as a way to give back to the next generation of students. I try instill in my students the importance of listening. All musicians should listen to themselves and the others around them. To play in an orchestra, you have to have concentration, When you actually play in performance you have to forget about fingerings, mouthpieces, reeds and all the other mechanics. You have to focus on making music and interacting with your fellow musicians.

Stanley Drucker appears with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony led by David Bernard on Saturday, November 8th at 8PM and Sunday, November 9th at 3PM at All Saints Church, 230 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Advance tickets are available online here.

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