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Remembering Clarinetist and Teacher Peter Simenauer

In the Fall of 1990 I started my graduate studies at the Mannes College of Music in New York City. I was living on the upper Westside of Manhattan, rent was $800 for a rent stabilized apartment, and I had earlier that year finished up my undergraduate work at San Francisco State University. I was excited to begin working with Peter Simenauer, who was to be my private instructor, at Mannes. I literally knew nothing about Peter except that he was the Associate Principal and E-flat clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic at that time, a position he had held for some twenty years I believe. My recollection is Peter was in his mid fifties at this point.

Above: Peter on the left with Stanley Drucker on the right.

I remember meeting Peter for the first time, and our first lesson together. I was struck by what a dignified and reserved man he seemed. He always wore a coat and a tie, and he spoke very clearly and succinctly. In that first lesson I played some etudes and a concerto for him, and we talked at length about all the usual clarinet topics-reeds, mouthpieces, repertoire and instruments. Peter had a rather informal attitude towards working with his students. He simply asked you to prepare something for your next lesson, never really assigning anything specific, and he would work with you on that and offer you suggestions and comments. For a self motivated student such as myself that approach was perfect, but I know some other students didn’t find that helpful. Some students need more structure from their teacher.

Often Peter would arrive early for my lessons and grab a practice room at school, usually bringing his E-flat clarinet along. Typically he was working on something that the Philharmonic would be rehearsing for an upcoming performance. Listening to Peter Simenauer woodshedding E-flat clarinet was quite an experience. The man had tremendous command of that little instrument, and he was an impeccable and meticulous musician. I remember sitting outside just listening several times. What a pleasure that was. I don’t think I ever heard him miss a note in practice or in a lesson. He was just so incredibly accurate and polished, a complete orchestral clarinetist in every sense.

Eventually Peter became the coach of a woodwind quintet that I was in as part of the chamber music portion of our degree program. He did a fantastic job getting a more musical and structured sound out of this group of graduate students, and he was hard on us in a very professional way. Mr. Simenauer had very high musical standards, and he expected your best work when he came in the room. I think he intimidated some of the other players in this group, and I thought it was wonderful to have your private instructor there to evaluate the ensemble’s progress.

Peter loved to experiment with mouthpieces, and I remember bringing back some early Clark Fobes mouthpieces from my trips back home to San Francisco for Peter to try. Although he was very much a Vandoren guy at this point, he always had good things to say about Fobes’ evolving work.

Sometimes Peter would ask me to do a lesson down at the Symphony Hall, backstage in the green room at Avery Fischer Hall. I suspect he did that to toughen you up; it was nerve wracking to be playing back there with all those famous musicians milling about. Peter was a gracious and warm hearted man through and through, and he often gave me tickets to Philharmonic concerts. I saw several performances that he was a part of, and I remember some sort of gala that he got me into where he played the Mozart Quintet with those same Philharmonic musicians.

I learned of Peter's passing through this short New York Times Obituary that ran on September 22, 2013:

SIMENAUER--Peter. The world has lost a great musician. Peter Simenauer, former Associate Principal Clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic for 38 years passed away on September 14th in Naples, Florida. A child prodigy Peter excelled at many instruments including the violin, viola and saxophone. Born in Berlin Germany, Peter grew up in China and then went on to join the Israel Philharmonic for nine years. As a young artist he won the Mozarteum Competition and concertized worldwide before joining the New York Philharmonic in 1960. His recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Pascal String Quartet has continued to sell for over 50 years. His loving family survives him. (Published in The New York Times on September 22, 2013)

Here are some Youtube links that show Peter's clarinet artistry off to perfection:

Peter Simenauer was an old school clarinetist, trained in the classical methods, and a very experienced symphony player that had seen and heard it all in his career. While not as well known as his good friend Stanley Drucker, Peter was the perfect teacher and gentleman that I needed at this point in my musical development. While he didn’t seem to understand my love of jazz and my pursuit of the saxophone, he would never pass any sort of judgement about that, and he worked with me towards my ultimate goal, which was to become a well rounded musician and obtain my MM degree from Mannes. I was lucky to have had the chance to work with such a classy and talented man as Peter Simenauer. He certainly helped me on my way to becoming a better clarinetist and fully supported my interests. I am grateful to have been in his company at that point in my life. I remember Peter Simenauer. RIP Great Man.

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