Stanley McCartney Retires

Johannes Debus | Orchestra Members | Audio Interviews

by Elizabeth Gowan

At the end of the 2009/2010 season, the COC will say goodbye to Stanley McCartney who has been principal clarinet of the orchestra since 1985.

As principal clarinet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra he performed under conductors Karel Ancerl and Sir Andrew Davis. He has performed with many distinguished conductors including Zubin Mehta, Kurt Sanderling, Erich Leinsdorf and Seiji Ozawa.

On several occasions, at the request of Robert Marcellus, principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, he performed with that orchestra under George Szell and was invited by Szell to perform the E-flat clarinet on the Cleveland Orchestra recording of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.

Stanley McCartney performed and taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts and Scotia Festival of Music and performed at the Stratford Festival with such distinguished artists as Glenn Gould, Leonard Rose, and Oscar Shumsky. He was a member of the Toronto Woodwind Quintet and has performed on many occasions with the Brunswick, St. Lawrence, Orford, Purcell and Aeolian string quartets.

Stan taught for many years at the University of Toronto, and one of his former students can be found in the COC pit. Colleen Cook, our second clarinet and bass clarinet, says he taught her to think as a musician. “He would only work on one piece by any particular composer. That way I would get the style of the music but wouldn’t be spoon-fed all the things the composer did.

When working on the Mozart clarinet concerto, it took two or three lessons before he would allow me to play the first note because my breathing and preparation to play were not what he wanted. At the time I questioned this approach, but in retrospect I really appreciate it.”

There have been many highlights of his tenure at the COC. Moving from the O’Keefe Centre to our fabulous new opera house is high on the list, and Stan is quick to credit Richard Bradshaw for his work in getting us here. “I don’t know how Richard did it. . . . I don’t know how he did a lot of things!” Of course, the Ring Cycle with all its prominent clarinet solos stands out in his memory. “I had always wanted to do it, and had played bits and pieces of it over the years. But to perform the entire cycle was such a thrill—I loved every minute of it.” He also remembers the huge improvement in the quality of the orchestra during his 25 years with the COC. He is sorry to be leaving just as Johannes Debus arrives as our new music director, for he anticipates a lot of positive change and still further improvements in the orchestra under Johannes’s direction.

But just listing his achievements doesn’t begin to convey the experience of having Stan as a colleague. His professionalism and conscientiousness are legendary. He is usually the first one in the pit, arriving early to warm up and work on reeds before each performance. His quest for the perfect reed – and his chronic worrying when he doesn’t think he has it—have been the source of a lot of good-natured teasing in the woodwind section. In fact, “Are you going to use that reed?” has become a running joke among us.

Before he leaves us, Stan will be featured in a tribute concert on April 29 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre as part of the Chamber Music series. He will be performing Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, accompanied by a string quartet made up of COC musicians Marie Bérard, Benjamin Bowman, Theresa Rudolph Koczó, and Bryan Epperson. Stan picked the repertoire for the concert (which will also include the Borodin String Quartet No. 2), choosing the Mozart because he regards it as one of the great masterpieces in all chamber music.

Stan hastens to add that while he is retiring from the COC, he will not be giving up performing and has plans to make a CD in the near future. “I’m certainly not going to stuff the clarinet under the bed! It would be a temptation, but I don’t think I could do that. So we’ll play it by ear, so to speak.” Retirement will allow him to focus on two of his passions: golf and fishing. As soon as opera season finishes at the end of May, he will be hitting the greens every day if he can. And he’s planning a trip this summer to Gods River in northern Manitoba to fish for walleye and speckled trout.

Goodbye Stan—it won’t be the same here without you.

Elizabeth Gowen plays bassoon in the COC Orchestra.

Music Director Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2009