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Stanley Drucker, Ageless Clarinetist of the N.Y. Philharmonic, Dies at 93


Stanley Drucker, who was often called the dean of American orchestral clarinetists during a 60-year profession with the Latest York Philharmonic, putting his mark on countless performances and recordings under a legion of celebrated conductors, died on Monday in Vista, Calif., outside San Diego. He was 93.

His death, at the house of his daughter, Rosanne Drucker, was confirmed by his son, Lee.

Mr. Drucker, who retired in 2009, was only the fourth principal clarinetist of the Philharmonic since 1920 when he took up the post. Few wind players at any of the good American orchestras served as long.

He played for the Philharmonic music directors Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel, presenting a method and sound that typified the Philharmonic’s character — soloistic, technically and sonically good, flamboyant and on the verge of brash.

Mr. Drucker combined shapely phrasing with impeccable fingerwork. Together with his iron-gray hair and a rather crooked front tooth, he was known for his youthful look and energy well into his 70s. His nickname within the orchestra was “Stanley Steamer,” a mirrored image of his swift marches offstage to make the commute to his home on Long Island, in Massapequa. “That’s my exercise,” he often said, “running for the train.”

Such a protracted tenure naturally meant that he encountered the identical pieces over and once again, and he greeted them like “old friends,” he said. Different perspectives that various conductors would bring to the music, he added, kept things fresh.

“You absorb the personality and talent of whoever’s up on the rostrum,” he said.

Just as much, those maestri would defer to Mr. Drucker’s interpretations of clarinet solos. Such was his influence that when a clarinet-playing Latest York Times reporter put in a request to perform with the orchestra for an article in 2004, the ultimate say rested not with the music director, Mr. Maazel, not the orchestra president, Zarin Mehta, not even the powerful personnel manager, Carl Schiebler, but with Mr. Drucker.

Mr. Drucker’s longevity with the Philharmonic gave rise to impressive statistics: 10,200 live shows with the orchestra, including 191 solo appearances, and performances of nearly every major clarinet concerto and soloist on greater than a dozen recordings. He also recorded many of the standard clarinet chamber music works.

He was nominated twice for a Grammy — for recordings of the Aaron Copland Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano, with Leonard Bernstein conducting, and of John Corigliano’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, with Zubin Mehta conducting. The Philharmonic commissioned the Corigliano for Mr. Drucker.

The publication Musical America named him instrumentalist of the yr in 1998, and he was one in all the few living orchestral musicians with an entry within the Latest Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

A measure for any clarinetist is the good Mozart concerto, one in all the composer’s last works. Of a 2001 performance, Allan Kozinn wrote in The Times that Mr. Drucker gave a “vigorous, thoughtfully shaped reading” of the opening movement and “tapped all of the aching beauty within the Andante.”

“Nevertheless it was within the finale that he really set free,” Mr. Kozinn added, “each with phrasing turns that pushed against the constraints of the road and by conveying a way of heightened dialogue between his instrument and the remaining of the orchestra.”

Mr. Drucker conceived of an orchestral wind section as one organism.

“You give and take; you don’t only take,” he said in a 2004 interview with The Times. “It’s a chamber music situation. You play to boost.” He urged orchestral players to turn out to be deeply aware of a whole work and express “what you will have inside, what your sensitivity is.”

Stanley Drucker was born on Feb. 4, 1929, in Brooklyn to immigrants from Galicia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after they had left it 20 years earlier. He grew up within the Brownsville and Park Slope neighborhoods. His father, Joseph, had a custom tailor shop. His mother, Rose (Oberlander) Drucker, was a homemaker.

Like so many clarinetists of the era, Mr. Drucker was inspired by Benny Goodman. His parents, seized by the Goodman craze of the time, bought him a clarinet for his tenth birthday. “They figured it was higher than being a tailor,” Mr. Drucker said.

His fundamental teacher was Leon Russianoff, a number one clarinet pedagogue of the latter half of the twentieth century, after whom Mr. Drucker would name his son. Mr. Drucker attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Astonishingly, he entered the Indianapolis Symphony at age 16. “The article was to play, and get out into the actual world,” he said. “I assumed I knew every part, but discovered quickly I didn’t.” In the course of the summers he would return to Latest York for lessons with Russianoff.

Mr. Drucker’s first formal photo with the Latest York Philharmonic, in about 1948. Credit…Latest York Philharmonic Archives

Mr. Drucker spent a yr touring with the Adolf Busch Chamber Players, a conductor-less ensemble led by Mr. Busch, a violinist, after which joined the Buffalo Philharmonic. By 19 he had joined the Latest York Philharmonic as assistant principal, after Mr. Busch suggested that the Philharmonic invite him to audition. His getting the post, in 1948, was front page news in The Brooklyn Eagle. “My parents thought I used to be Joe Louis,” he said.

Despite his youth, Mr. Drucker caught up quickly, learning on the job. “It was a master class each day,” he said.

Bernstein, the Philharmonic’s music director, appointed him to the principal clarinet position in 1960.

In 1998, the Philharmonic commemorated Mr. Drucker’s fiftieth anniversary in the course of the final subscription program of the season by featuring him playing the Copland concerto. On the time, he identified that he was not the oldest player there.

“I’ve been there the longest, because I began so young,” he told The Times. “But time compresses, you understand? Fifty years doesn’t really seem so long.”

Mr. Drucker married Naomi Lewis, a clarinetist who has had a fruitful profession in her own right, in 1956. Their son, Leon, who goes by Lee, is a bassist with the rockabilly band Stray Cats, performing under the name Lee Rocker. Their daughter, Rosanne, is an alt-country singer-songwriter.

Along with his wife and youngsters, Ms. Drucker is survived by two grandchildren. He lived for many of his adult life in Massapequa.

Mr. Drucker, right, together with his son, Lee, a bassist with the rockabilly band Stray Cats, and Mr. Drucker’s wife, the clarinetist Naomi Lewis, in 2006.Credit…Richard Perry/The Latest York Times

Together with the clarinet, Mr. Drucker and his wife had a passion for his or her 30-foot-long fly bridge cabin cruiser, which they christened the Noni, for Ms. Drucker’s childhood nickname. They might take it for a monthlong cruise every summer.

Mr. Drucker edited quite a few volumes of studies, solo works and orchestral excerpts for clarinet for the International Music Co. He taught on the Juilliard School from 1968-98.

But he was not given to high-flown pronouncements about artistry or musicianship.

“You learn all of these things,” he once said. “And after some extent, any person has to let you know, ‘Forget all of it, just exit and play.’”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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