It was a very special privilege to attend the 14,326th concert of The New York Philharmonic last night at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The gala was to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Zoellner Center. It was a special evening in many respects. The gala tent where 420 people had dinner was just one hundred yards from where I was standing on November 22, 1963 when I learned about the John F. Kennedy’s assassination. (See "Where were you when…?"). The evening was also special because I got to meet Dr. Alice Gast, the new president of the university. When I attended Lehigh it was not yet a coeducational university.
The most special part of the evening was the music. The New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842. Lorin Maazel, became Music Director in 2002 after having led more than 150 orchestras in more than 5,000 opera and concert performances around the world. This truly remarkable man uses no score yet seems to know every note and passage intimately. Having memorized six minutes or so of Beethoven and Mozart for my own conducting experiences, I have great respect for someone who knows countless hours of music. Maazel made his first conducting appearance at age six and I estimate he must be 76 years old. After seventy years of conducting, there are likely not many classical music pieces he doesn’t know. The opening piece last night was Weber’s Overture to Oberon, often regarded as his finest composition. It was followed by one of my favorites — Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, the “Great” G minor symphony. After the intermission came the incredible “Eroica”, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. I was brought to tears during the second movement. The strength of every section of the orchestra was overwhelming and the great acoustic characteristics in the Zoellner Center just amplified them to perfection.
An orchestra is only as good as the sum of it’s great musicians and the conductor. The Philharmonic consists of many stars, each famous in their own right. Glenn Dicterow, the concertmaster, has been winning numerous awards and competitions around the world since he was a boy. Stanley Drucker is the most famous clarinetist in the world. (See Marvelous Mozart). The list goes on but I was most impressed with Liang Wang, the twenty-six year old principal oboist. The principal oboist sits in the center of the orchestra and in many ways *is* the center of the orchestra, second only to the conductor. Liang Wang spends hours every day shaping the reeds for his instrument. As he performs he rises six inches out of his chair and provides strong leadership appreciated by all. Wang was born in in Qing Dao, China, in 1980 and comes from a musical family. He studied at the Beijing Central Conservatory, which has a thirteen acre campus, over 500,000 volumes in the Music Library, and more than 500 pianos. Needless to say, there is great appreciation for classical music in China. Although I can not verify this, a friend last night told me that there are currently forty-seven million Chinese students studying the violin.