Norman Carol Bows Out

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

Why did he leave?

"I think this Muti-Ieaving situation has been beaten to a pulp," Carol says. "To discuss it any further is a disservice to Muti and anybody else who might be involved. I believe that Muti was convinced in his own mind, whatever the reasons are, that it was time for him to leave Philadelphia. I don’t want to be in a position to defend Muti. Conductors have big enough personalities to defend themselves. But Muti was a very misunderstood person in Philadelphia — I don’t think they appreciated the talent he had. The only thing a large segment of the population seemed concerned about was whether his hair was going to fall in the right place."

Did Muti’s departure influence Carol’s own retirement plans?

"His decision had absolutely nothing to do with mine," Carol insists. "As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you. Muti and I could read each other’s faces. And when I called to tell him I was retiring, he was shocked. He said he couldn’t believe I could play all the time that I did [with all the pain]. I said, ‘It’s the one thing I was able to put over on you.’"


CAROL HAS ALWAYS BEEN quiet about the nature of his injury and how bad it was. The orchestra knew something was wrong, of course, because he was out for a few weeks for surgery three years ago. But he never offered many details, and is still sheepish about confirming any now. He views even admitting he has a physical problem as a form of "coming out. "

"The only person who knew about it was my wife. I played in pain for three years. I saw some doctors, I had a couple of surgeries, but not all surgery is successful. I finally reached the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore. Without going into all the gory details, I’ll just say that there’s a reason that one of the up-and-coming branches of medicine is performing-arts medicine. And one thing that should be addressed at music conservatories is proper warm-up — all the things that athletes do. When you’re young, you’re invincible. I went through that at Curtis years ago. It’s important that they talk about these things. Even the string players at Curtis now [where Carol still teaches] at an early age have had medical problems."

The pain doesn’t mean he has to stop playing, but he can no longer continue at the pace of a concertmaster. He has been able to complete his non-solo performances for the season. And he has even been making one last recording with the orchestra under Wolfgang Sawallisch — the entire Swan Lake ballet, including several violin solos usually cut from it.

"My solos were done in such a fashion that I was in the studio all by myself," says Carol. "I could play when I wanted to. And if I got tired the producer understood. There was no problem with the union clock running." From now on, all his music-making will be done the same way.