Michele Zukovsky, clarinet & The Capitol Ensemble

October 22, 2023 | 6:00 PM

When clarinetist Michele Zukovsky auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1961, she hadn’t a clue that this decision would set her on a rewarding and unconventional course for her entire career. At age 18, she became the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, and went on to become the orchestra’s longest-serving female woodwind player. Michele’s first mentor was her own father, Kalman Bloch, himself a pupil of esteemed clarinetist and arranger Simeon Bellison.
When she was hired by the Philharmonic, her father was still a member of the orchestra, having joined during Otto Klemperer’s tenure and continuing with them until 1981. By the time Michele retired in December 2015, she had played under five of the orchestra’s music directors: Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, André Previn, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Gustavo Dudamel. She also worked under a cast of internationally renowned conductors such as John Barbirolli, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, Pierre Monteux, and Pierre Boulez. From recording sessions with composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky, a number of other creative partnerships with living composers emerged. She interpreted Copland’s Clarinet Concerto under the composer’s own baton. In 1986, when the Philharmonic approached Luciano Berio to compose a concerto for Michele, he responded with his colorful orchestration of the first Brahms Clarinet Sonata.

Michele can also be heard across a selection of film soundtracks, including scores by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and the Oscar-winning John Williams, whose elusive 1991 Clarinet Concerto was given to Michele to premiere. In 1972 she travelled to the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico where she collaborated with its namesake, Pablo Casals; after the revered cellist passed away the following year, Michele performed in his memorial concert. She has toured and played with noted violinists Gidon Kremer and Pinchas Zukerman, and appeared at festivals such as Spoleto, Lockenhaus, Schleswig-Holstein, and Santa Fe. She has performed many works for clarinet and orchestra, spanning concertos from Corigliano to Mozart and  including concertinos by Weber — which she recorded for Decca with the LA Philharmonic — and Busoni. Continuing to teach privately and at such institutions as Azusa Pacific University, Citrus
College, and the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, she also maintains a busy schedule of guest masterclasses.