Deceptive Cadence
4:24 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

New York Philharmonic's Lead Fiddler Rests His Bow

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 10:58 am

Most people who attend symphony performances can spot the concertmaster. That's the first chair violinist who enters before the conductor and helps tune the orchestra. But the all important position calls for much more than that — from playing tricky solos to shaping the sound of the string section.

"Glenn Dicterow is the quintessential concertmaster, in my opinion," Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, says. "The concertmaster more than any other individual musician in an orchestra can really affect not just the sound, but the whole attitude, the whole approach to music. And I don't think you'll ever hear anyone say a bad word about Glenn; he's loved by all his colleagues."

When Dicterow joined the New York Philharmonic in 1980, at the age of 31, he was the youngest concertmaster in the orchestra's history. Since then, he's played in more than 6,000 concerts with more than 200 conductors. The violinist says a big part of his job is political.

"It's how you get along with your colleagues, how you solve problems, be it a problem that involves two people not getting along or somebody not really doing their job, as far as being part of the team, you sort of have to take care of those things," he says. "And, let's say we have a guest conductor who, basically, rubs people the wrong way — it's my job to make peace. Everybody needs to get along to make gorgeous music. That's the bottom line."

Dicterow came to New York from Los Angeles, at the invitation of Zubin Mehta. The orchestra then was mostly made up of men and had a reputation for being somewhat cantankerous.

"The 'old guard,' as they called them. They said what they felt right away," he says. "And if somebody was on the podium that they didn't quite like they would tell him off. Sometimes they didn't get along and there were some pushing and shoving matches."

The longtime concertmaster says there are maybe three or four people left from those days. Now, it's a more diverse group and the orchestra is more than 50 percent women. He thinks these musicians are more flexible and open; several of them, including conductor Alan Gilbert, are his former students.

"I don't have an exact body count, but I think it's, I would venture to say it's about 11," he says.

One of those former students, Lisa Kim, is associate principal second violin. She says Dicterow taught her more than just musical lessons.

"The positive energy that he has really affects the whole orchestra onstage," she says. "And I didn't really realize it at the time; I mean, you play well and that's fine, you know, that's all you need. But it's more to it than that."

Dicterow has a fondness for all four Philharmonic music directors he's played under, but he holds a special place in his heart for the late Leonard Bernstein, who was the Philharmonic's music director emeritus during the 1980s.

"I just heard a sound coming out of the orchestra that was magical and I don't know where it was coming from; it was like from heaven," he says.

Bernstein's Serenade has been one of the violinist's signature pieces over the years, and Dicterow first played it with Bernstein conducting. The composer initially felt Dicterow's playing was too romantic for a work he thought of as neoclassical.

"Meanwhile, there's nobody emoting more on the podium than he. In the tutti sections, he's jumping up and flailing and, you know, neoclassic my butt!" the concertmaster says.

After he retires from the Philharmonic, Dicterow will move to Los Angeles to teach at USC's Thornton School of Music, while continuing to play chamber music and perform as a soloist with orchestras. But he says he'll miss his colleagues.

"It got to be a family. I'm gonna miss it, but now I'm gonna be coming to the concerts and not have to practice," he says.

He still has a little more practicing to do yet — Dicterow will be performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto, with principal cellist Carter Brey and Philharmonic artist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman through this Saturday.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's the end of an era at the New York Philharmonic this week. Violinist Glenn Dicterow is retiring. He's been the longest-serving concertmaster in the Philharmonic's history. Jeff Lunden spoke with Dicterow and some of his colleagues about his 34-year tenure.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Most people who attend orchestra concerts are somewhat aware of the concertmaster. They enter the stage before the conductor comes on and lead the tuning up. And from the first chair of the violin section, if a piece calls for a violin solo, the concertmaster is the one who plays it.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN)

ALAN GILBERT: Glenn Dicterow is the quintessential concertmaster in my opinion.

LUNDEN: Alan Gilbert is the music director of the New York Philharmonic.

GILBERT: The concertmaster, more than any other individual musician in an orchestra, can really affect not just sound, but the whole attitude, the whole approach to music. And I don't think you'll ever hear anyone say a bad word about Glenn. He's loved by all his colleagues.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN)

LUNDEN: When Glenn Dicterow joined the New York Philharmonic in 1980 at the age of 31, he was the youngest concertmaster in the orchestra's history. Since then, he's played in more than 6,000 concerts with more than 200 conductors. Dicterow says a big part of his job is political.

GLENN DICTEROW: It's how you get along with your colleagues, how you solve problems, be it a problem that involves two people not getting along or somebody not really doing their job as far as being part of the team. You have to sort of take care of those kind of things. And let's say we have a guest conductor who basically rubs people the wrong way, it's my job to make peace and everybody needs to get along to make gorgeous music. That's the bottom line.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN)

LUNDEN: Dicterow came to New York from Los Angeles at the invitation of Zubin Mehta. The orchestra then was mostly made up of men and had a reputation for being somewhat cantankerous.

DICTEROW: The old guard, as they called them, they said what they felt right away. And if somebody was on the podium that they didn't quite like then they would tell them off. Sometimes they didn't get along and there was some pushing and shoving matches.

LUNDEN: Dicterow says there are maybe three or four people left from those days. Now it's a more diverse group. And the orchestra is more than 50 percent women. Dicterow thinks these musicians are more flexible and open and several of them, including conductor Alan Gilbert, are his former students.

DICTEROW: I don't have an exact body count, but I think it's - I would venture to say it's about 11.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA)

LUNDEN: One of those former students, Lisa Kim, is associate principal second violin. She says Dicterow taught her more than just musical lessons.

LISA KIM: The positive energy that he has really affects the whole orchestra on stage. And I didn't really realize it at the time - I mean, you play well and that's fine, that's all you need. But it's more to it than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA)

LUNDEN: Dicterow has a fondness for all four Philharmonic music directors he's played under. But he holds a special place in his heart for the late Leonard Bernstein, who was the Philharmonic's music director emeritus during the 1980s.

DICTEROW: I just heard a sound coming out of the orchestra that was magical and I don't know where it was coming from. It was like from heaven.

LUNDEN: Dicterow has made Bernstein's "Serenade" one of his signature pieces over the years. He first played it with Bernstein conducting. The composer initially felt Dicterow's playing was too romantic. He thought of this work as neoclassical.

DICTEROW: Meanwhile, there's nobody who's emoting more on the podium than he. In the tutti sections, he's jumping up and flailing and, you know, neoclassic my butt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA)

LUNDEN: But Dicterow says Bernstein eventually came around. After he retires from the Philharmonic, Dicterow's going to move to Los Angeles to teach at USC's Thornton School of Music, while continuing to play chamber music and performance as a soloist with orchestras. But he says he'll miss his colleagues.

DICTEROW: We got to be a family. I'm going to miss it. But now I'm going to be coming to the concerts and not to practice.

LUNDEN: He still has a little more practicing to do. Glenn Dicterow will be performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto with principal cellist Carter Brey and Philharmonic artist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman through this Saturday. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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