The New York Philharmonic's principal clarinetist, Stanley Drucker, will retire at the end of the orchestra's current season and the Times has a feature on him in today's edition. Not only has he been in the orchestra for 60 years, he's used the same mouthpiece since 1948. Last month, he filled in at the last minute on the 1st clarinet part for Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, which is by no means the kind of music the average musician should attempt to play without a rehearsal. Drucker may be 80, but he's hasn't lost a step. (Maybe I should say "a fingering." I have no idea what the equivalent analogy would be for a clarinetist.)
Drucker is one of a handful of musicians in the orchestra that I've known by name since I was a child. When I watched the Philharmonic on "Live From Lincoln Center" with my mother, she would point out her fellow clarinetist when he appeared in closeups. I own many recordings of the Philharmonic, and it's safe to say that Drucker plays on all of them. While it's well known that the city will bid farewell to Lorin Maazel as music director at the end of the season (and his departure will be the more celebrated one), I think Drucker's loss will have a stronger impact. You can't replace a 60-year veteran that easily. I'm sure the orchestra will find an exceptional musician to take Drucker's chair, but I'll miss seeing a familiar face when I go to their concerts.