Composer John Corigliano returns to the New York Philharmonic this season for performances of his Promenade Overture and Pied Piper Fantasy. Despite his many accomplishments and honors, which include both an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, appearances with the Philharmonic represent something special. "I remember things very vividly with the Philharmonic," says the New York-born composer, who turns 65 this month. For him, there is much to remember.
His connection with the Orchestra began with his father, John Corigliano, Sr., who was Concertmaster from 1943 to 1966. During that time, the budding composer got to know members of the Orchestra, and even accompanied them on some of their adventures. "I went with the Philharmonic in 1951 on their first tour to Europe after World War II. Dimitri Mitropoulos, I remember, was conducting Shostakovich's Tenth at the Edinburgh Festival, and I was watching from behind the Orchestra through a little peephole." Widely considered to be a uniquely talented orchestrator, Corigliano attributes this skill to his youthful exposure to the Philharmonic: "I think just listening to the Orchestra was the way I came to be able to write for it."
In 1977 another Philharmonic conductor would amaze him from the podium. Corigliano had completed his first New York Philharmonic Commission, a Concerto for Principal Clarinet Stanley Drucker and Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein. A scheduling fluke slated the first rehearsal of the daunting new piece for the day before its premiere. "Before a note was played, Lenny talked for 50‹five oh!‹minutes," Corgiliano recalls. "He went through the whole piece with the musicians, describing what he was going to do. By the end of 50 minutes, with the premiere the next night, I was ready for a stretcher."
Mr. Corigliano is as enamored with the Orchestra today as ever, but is at times viscerally reminded of its past, intertwined as it is with his own. He recalls his most recent Philharmonic Commission, Vocalise, composed to mark the millennium, which received its world premiere in 1999: "You know, when Glenn Dicterow played the violin solos, I couldn't help but imagine my father sitting there."
Daniel Sonenberg is a composer and visiting assistant professor of music at Brooklyn College.