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When Is It Time For An Orchestral Musician To Retire ?

   Stories have been circulating in the classical music world about the sad decline of one of the world's greatest virtuosos of the horn - the veteran principal horn of the world-famous Chicago symphony, Dale Clevenger, 72 .  Clevenger has been prinicpal horn in Chicago since the mid 1960s,  and has  achieved great renown not only as an orchestral musician but a soloist  al over the world . He has made acclaimed recordings of  the horn concertos  of Mozart, Richard Strauss, and the  one for four horns by Robert Schumann and other works . 

    But  any musician, now matter how accomplished , can only last so long .  Advancing age  inevitably brings  physical decline , especially in brass players ,  whose  lips  cannot last forever .  Being an orchestral musician is a  very  physically stressful and demanding job, and the horn is a notoriously difficult instrument to play and gto master .  A study ranking different professions  on their stress levels  has shown that  being prinicpal horn in a world-class orchestra is one of the most  streesful  jobs in existence ! 

    It's not a job for the faint-hearted !   You never know if  you will make it through a performance without  making "clams" , or splitting and cracking notes, because of the difficulty of the horn, especially in the highest notes .  Playing the long , complex symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler  and many other works  is a  grueling  experience , and in order for the first horn to  save his lip endurance,  many orchestras, particularly in  America and England,  have an  assistant principal horn  who takes over  periodically during  difficult works  to  keep the prinicipal from exhaustion  ,fatigue  and  stress .  This is the principal's lifeline . 

    For decades , Dale Clevenger has been  greatly admired by critics,  audiences and fellow horn players , orchestral musicians  and eminent conductors for his  gorgeous sound ,  amazing  technical virtuosity and  panache  , and he has appeared  as a soloist in the demanding horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss and other composers  with his  hometown Chicagoans and many other leading orchestras , as well  as   being a leading teacher of his instrument . 

     But  unfortunately,  there are reports  from  leading music critics who have admired his playing for years , uncluding  Chicago's John Von Rhein,  Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, and others , of concerts  in which he has  flubbed too many notes  , standing out like the proverbial sore thumb . 

    U.S. orchestras do not have a mandatory retirement age ,unlike those  in Germany, where it is generally 65 , and music directors cannot  demand  the retirement of veteran  musicians who are past their prime  because of strict union regulations .  Other renowned horn players have  chosen to retire  before  Clevenger's age of 72  in order to  avoid  embarassing their orchestras and audiences  and even because they  found the stress of the job to  great after many years , including  Clevenger's predecessor in Chicago ,  the great  Philip Farkas . 

     Will Clevenger  finally decide it is time to  call it quits after such a long and distinguished career ? Only time will tell . 


Posted: Dec 26 2012, 11:27 PM by the horn | with no comments
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