By James Conlon

I can barely remember a time when I didn’t know Dick Horowitz.

The Metropolitan Opera’s Principal Timpanist first joined the orchestra in 1946 and retired only three years ago, in 2012. Those sixty-six years are a record: the longest-serving musician in the history of the Met’s orchestra. It has been estimated that he played tens of thousands of performances. He passed away on November 2, leaving a unique legacy.

I first met him in 1969 when I was studying with Jean Morel at the Juilliard School. As Morel had been a timpanist before he became a conductor, he had a special relationship with Dick (as he was known to all). Despite his well-known fierce Gallic character, Dick was clearly among Morel’s favorites.

He introduced us, explaining that I was one of his students, and that I had a particular interest in opera.  Dick had also studied with him. He asked me a lot of questions, and we discovered that we had not just a teacher in common, but also an Alma Mater, from which I had graduated the previous year–the High School of Music and Art.  After our meeting, knowing I wanted to conduct, he then “adopted” me.

Long before I started conducting at the Met, he used to invite me to sit behind him at rehearsals. I was able to absorb the inner workings of the orchestra from his perspective. I noted with what special care he marked his part as if it were a detailed roadmap with cues from all over the orchestra. From his perch, with his acute ears, he heard everything that went on. When I first came to conduct at the Met a few years later, he was there, lending a hand, support, advice and counsel (and, of course, generously making batons for me, which he loved to do).

He loved his work and he loved the orchestra. He was affectionately known to some as “the Phantom of the Opera,” as he could be found in the Met corridors at almost any hour of the day. He lived in northeastern Queens, close to where I grew up, so I understood why he didn’t want to deal with the commute more than once a day.  When I was still living with my parents, he drove me home late at night after performances on more than one occasion. We discovered that one of his cousins had been my English teacher in Junior High School. These were a few of the nonmusical links that we shared.

For the first twenty years of my career, I always consulted him as I added opera after opera to my repertory. He gave me photocopies of his own annotated parts for every one of them. Dick always “corrected” the pitches of the timpani that were discordant. All of the nineteenth century Italian operas were written before the pedals on the timpani allowed for quick changes of notes. The pitch was less distinct at the time and so the notes that did not fit harmonically were probably not disturbing to contemporary ears. That was no longer true in the modern era and Dick went about correcting them systematically for hundreds of operas.

The public hears the orchestra in a pit as an entity, a collective. An opera orchestra is less visible to that public. Consequently many of its individuals are less well known and sometimes unrecognized. To all of us who worked with and knew Dick Horowitz, he was an inspiring presence. His sixty-six years at the Met stand as a monumental record. His great legacy is now preserved, thanks to the release of the archives of the Met broadcasts. He was a great and unforgettable musician who earned the respect of all who worked with him and the affection of all who knew him.


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