Norman Carol Bows Out

After three decades as the heart of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the concertmaster takes his final encore. Bravo!

But the Ormandy years wore on Carol — and on Ormandy. By the late 70s, Carol was considering a departure from the Philadelphia Orchestra to go to San Francisco as concertmaster. "My wife is from San Francisco," he says, "and you know the unbelievable love affair natives have with that city. So, I said to her, ‘Okay, put up or shut up.’ She said, ‘How can you think of leaving Philadelphia for the San Francisco Symphony?"

He stayed, and when Riccardo Muti was finally hired to replace Ormandy, he knew he had made the right decision.


ALTHOUGH HE HAS BEEN playing for more than half a century under multiple maestros, it is his memories of Muti that are consistently the strongest. Muti is both a close friend and his truest musical inspiration. He once said of the conductor, "This man has been touched by God."

It was under Muti in 1985 that Carol had the rare honor of premiering a violin concerto written especially for him, on commission from the orchestra, by longtime friend Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, a conductor/composer. Carol and Muti also did a memorable recording of Sheherazade in 1983 at the Met — which, at that point, was literally rotting before their eyes. On this winter day it was also freezing. "The building had practically no heat," Carol recalls, "and what little heat it had couldn’t be used because the pipes clanged. So I am proud to say I recorded all the solos, which are quite extensive, wearing an overcoat."

Some of his most potent Muti recollections are not about opening nights at all. "With a couple of the operas we did with Muti, in particular the Italian operas, the Verdi that we did," he remembers, "some of the highlights were not necessarily the actual performance but the preparation for the performance. I don’t think there’s anyone alive today who knows Italian opera like Riccardo. He not only knows the musical content, he knows the story, the politics, the times that Verdi was talking about. And he could sing every word without the singer being there."

Besides his continued musical support for Muti, Carol also stands by the maestro’s call for a new symphony hall. "I think there are some very strong elements in the city who very much miss Muti," he says. "And they should. I don’t care who the music director is now — Muti gave this city a conscience. I’m a Philadelphian, so I can get away with saying this: Philadelphia is extremely slow to change. And the new hall is a perfect example of that. Philadelphia desperately needs a new hall, and it’s time the movers and shakers in town really understand that."

Muti’s leaving had a big effect on Carol. "We were not only close, but our wives were close. I think he probably confided in me and discussed certain things with me he wouldn’t tell the average person. As a matter of fact, when he was going to leave Philadelphia, he took me to lunch. I remember that being one of the most emotional days of my life."