Some of us said goodbye to George Wolfgang Cleve today. Even so, and even knowing full well how ill he was, I can barely grasp the fact that he is gone.

I met George when I was seventeen.

Yes, really.


I’m nearing sixty now. (Well, okay, I turn fifty-nine in November so I do have one year before the big 6-0, but still!)

That’s a lot of years of knowing him. That’s a lot of years of learning from him. A lot of years, too, of joy, frustration, wonder, tears, and oh so much more! I value every minute.

When I began in San Jose Symphony (no, not at seventeen: I was eighteen by then) I thought anyone who had a solo would (should!) go have a little visit with the conductor and go over solos. Call me naive (I was). Call me silly (I am). But I honestly did that. And he did go over things with me. He taught me so much in those early years.

He also chose a lot of work for English horn back then, and I’m so grateful. Roman Carnival Overture. William Tell Overture. Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Karneval Overture. And Ravel, Ravel, Ravel. Debussy too. More, of course, as the list was rather lengthy. I feel so blessed to have been able to play those works with him.

I will think of him, I know, any time I play one of those solos again.

I wasn’t ever completely comfortable with George. I have to admit that. I was a bit (or more than a bit!) fearful. I was sometimes intimidated. And I’m an extreme introvert so I wasn’t great at conversing. Still, I was music librarian for a while and did end up driving to his home in Berkeley to deliver music. I remember one time when he played a recording of our Bach B Minor Mass, on which he had let me play the oboe d’amore solos. (“Don’t play it like a bigger oboe,” he had instructed, “but like a smaller English horn.”) It was (probably still is) one of the few times I was actually satisfied with a recording of myself. (I suspect that tape — remember tape? — was destroyed in the fire, sad to say.)

We also had some rather big names on our stage. Those were the days, to be sure! Maybe readers who were around then will start listing them here, since my memory is so abominable. I do remember when he introduced me to Sarah Vaughan. (Who was she? I didn’t know at the time! I was so darn clueless back then!) Isaac Stern. Frederica von Stade. Jessye Norman. Peter Serkin. André Watts. Itzhak Perlman. Rudolf Firkušný. Nathan Milstein. Zara Nelsova. Jean-Philippe Collard. Lynn Harrell.

… c’mon, friends, add names! 🙂

Goodbye, George. And thank you.

(For another article that has appeared about George please read the SJCV article by Janos Gereben.)