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A Bittersweet Drucker Celebration

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
06/04/2009 -  & June 6, 9, 2009
Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
Franz Josef Haydn: Trumpet Concerto
Aaron Copland: Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, with Harp and Piano
Maurice Ravel: Boléro

Stanley Drucker (Clarinet), Philip Smith (Trumpet), Michelle Kim (Violin), Renée Siebert, Mindy Kaufman (Flutes)
New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel (Conductor and Music Director)

Stanley Drucker (© Chris Lee)

Lorin Maazel, Pierre Boulez and Kurt Masur got it completely, entirely and diametrically wrong last night!

In a short film celebrating the 60 years in which Stanley Drucker has been clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, they and others called him “a legend”, “an icon”, “a monument.” But to those who have been listening to this so incredible artist performing—with the Phil since 1948, one-third of the history of the orchestra itself—Mr. Drucker hardly stands still or immobile like legends or monuments.

And those of us fortunate to hear him perform Aaron Copland’s delightfully jazzy Clarinet Concerto last night (along with tomorrow and Saturday), Mr Drucker is simply one of those phenomena of nature. This was not simply being sure or technically confident of his instrument. That goes along with the post he holds. Rather, it was the style and energy in which he played it.

The first movement , reflective, fluid, nocturnal, was given a reading which was far from the self-conscious finesse with which its dedicatee, Benny Goodman, performed it. Mr. Drucker was far from cool. One could feel the tension beneath the melodies, the skull beneath the skin.

And when that had finished, and the long long cadenza started, Mr. Drucker became another man. More than the blues notes, more than the long seamless glissandi, more than a glorious tootling in the highest register, Mr. Drucker rolled with each measure, he danced up and down, and when Copland musically called “Jump!”, Mr. Drucker leaped.

It was a dazzling performance, it called for—and received—a standing ovation. One would have thought the ovation was for the 60-year anniversary, but no. This was plaudits for a performance that couldn’t have been excelled.

Alas, it was a bittersweet performance, since Mr. Drucker is leaving the Phil after six decades, about 14,000 performances and over 400 conductors. Obviously not to retire, for he is much-desired soloist. But oh, how we will miss that energy, that color, that style in every measure of every work which the orchestra plays.

Stanley Drucker was the high note (literally) of the evening, but the biggest surprise was the Bach Fourth Brandenburg Concerto. Mr. Maazel has shown such stolid respect for the Brandenburgs this season that the results are usually dull. Last night, though, his two real flautists (not, as sometimes happens, the fipple flute, a sort of recorder) were sparkling, blending in with an equally glowing violin, and the reduced orchestra was given an exceptional upbeat by the conductor. The result, especially with first flautist Renée Siebert, was a delicious set of dances and cadenzas, with the quick tempos which seem to be favored these days.

Showing off even more of the Phil’s players, the usually spectacular First Trumpet Philip Smith was sadly disappointing in that old warhorse, Haydn’s Concerto. Part was due to the flattened, almost flaccid tempo. The 64-year-old Haydn trying, for the first time, the keyed trumpet, discovering joys wrote like a dog with a new toy, but none of this was offered by orchestra or soloist. The usually careful Mr. Smith made several errors in each of the movements, so he was obviously off, and hopefully will be on for next concerts.

Mr. Maazel finished with Ye Complete Orchestra, though Ravel’s Boléro can turn into something of an orchestral concerto The soloists did their parts well, Mr. Maazel sternly kept the rhythms right, and the musical terraces built upon one another all the way to the last sizzling measures.

Harry Rolnick



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