Felix (Phil) Viscuglia died this past weekend in Nevada, his home.
While I have not seen the obituary, I knew Phil very well in Boston many years ago and called him my friend. Even close friend.
He was the first person I met at the New England Conservatory in 1957, when I graduated from the US Army.
He was a very nice guy, ( as we all said) and he remained that for as long as I knew him.
He was the kind of clarinetist who got along with everyone.
As a player, I first heard him even earlier, while in High School. It was the premier of Leneord Bernsteins “Trouble in Tahiti”. a short happy operetta built around soloists, a vocal trio, with chamber orchestral accompaniment. Bernstein was conducting rehearsals at Brandeis University in the outdoor stage, where the piece would be performed. My teacher was playing bass clarinet and invited me to the rehearsal. The operetta begins with an Eb clarinet solo in the jazz vein and it was beautifully played by Phil Viscuglia, (whose name I asked my teacher). He played it like he was improvising it. It was very moving and I haven’t forgotten.
Later, after the Army I met him at the Conservatory, where he was teaching. He was gregarious and open and he was that way with everyone.
But, as a player, he was truly without peer.He was the successor to Rosario Mazzeo as Bass Clarineist with the Boston Symphony, but he also played saxophone with as much espertise as he did clarinet. He recorded the Debussy Saxophone Rhapsody with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony. He also played jazz. But interestingly enough, he could play anything there was to play on the clarinet. He could double and triple-tongue with ease , which he would demonstrate anytime he was asked.He simply knew everything there was to know about playing the clarinet. He did it easily and with great aplomb.
Once, on a moments notice, he filled in with the Philadelphis Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy in” Ein Heldenleben”. The second clarinetist had contracted food poisoning and was unable to play. The part was second clarinet. If you know the piece, there is a very long solo clarinet obbligato played by the second clarinet. My underatnding is that he played it at sight. I was at the performance, and it was an event which I will never forget.
Most, or many clarinetists drag their ego around with the emphasis of a brass band. Phil never did this. He was always rather diffident, except when he played.
He was the fellow that showed me the “ropes” in Boston and I played many “jobs”with him, playing second. He instrucetd me in orchestral deportment, always with grace.
Much later when I was playing New Music in Buffalo, at the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNYAB, he came to visit me . It was with great surprise and not a little pride that he offered to trade me all the work he had in Boston if I would give him my Buffalo “job”. His father lved in Buffalo and was ill, as Phil exlained . I didn’t take him up on the deal,and I don’t remember exactly the reasons.
The next thing I knew, was that Rosario had retired and Phil got the Bass clarinet job.
I had no idea that he later spent many years teaching at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and playing Solo clarinet in the Nevada Philharmonic. Like his teacher, Mazzeo, Phil; was also the personnel manager of that orchestra.
I was very sorry to hear of his passing. He must have been midway in his 80’s.
He was truly a great clarinetist, a real natural, “way up there”, as we say.I, and the rest of the clarinet community will miss him.
I remember one of the last things we played together was in a suburb of Boston. We played the Milhaud Concerto for Tympani and Orchestra. There was a soli for two clarinets in octaves. I played second. I hope I didn’t play too loud.
best regards, Sherman