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 a mere 18 years old, she became the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, prompting her to leave her studies at the University of Southern California ten weeks into her first year. She went on to become the orchestra’s longest-serving female woodwind player and by the time she retired in December 2015, she had played under five of the orchestra’s major directors: Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, André Previn, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Gustavo Dudamel.
Since that time she’s invested her energy in teaching both privately and at institutions, namely Azusa Pacific University, Citrus College, and the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, all the while maintaining a busy schedule with guest masterclasses. The recent pandemic shifted her pedagogical outlets into the virtual realm, yet this has only offered the ever-versatile musician a chance for further expansion. She currently shares her wealth of experience with a diverse array of students from all across the globe. Read more about Michele’s teaching.
Michele’s first mentor was her own father, Kalman Bloch, himself a pupil of esteemed clarinetist and arranger Simeon Bellison. She took up the instrument at age 7 and under Bloch’s tutelage, won the Coleman Competition for three consecutive years and gave a number of successful auditions.
At the time that Michele was hired by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, her father was still a member of the orchestra as well. He had joined during Otto Klemperer’s tenure and continued performing with them until 1981. Bloch guided her through the transition into the role, and certainly coming from second chair of the Inglewood Symphony, it was quite an adjustment for the young Michele.
“Zukovsky is, without question, one of the best performers of this marvelous music ever – and that goes on up to the highest level of a company that includes the English reginald Kell and Gervase Peyer and the American Stanley Drucker and Richard Stolzman.”Irving Kolodin, New York Times
“The music that opens his First Symphony (Sibelius Symphony), the clarinet solo off in the chill grayness over muffled drums – which Salonen, the Philharmonic and the irreplaceable Michele Zukovsky performed at Ojai’s first concert on Friday…”Alan Rich, LA weekly
During her first decade and a half on the job, she had already worked under a cast of internationally renowned conductors such as John Barbarolli, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, and Pierre Monteux, and Pierre Boulez. This same period also yielded a session with composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky for Capitol Records, from which a number of other creative partnerships with living composers emerged. Working with closely with Leonard Bernstein led her to later record his beloved paen to jazz, Rhapsody In Blue. She also interpreted Copland’s concerto under the composer’s own baton.In 1986, the LA Philharmonic approached Luciano Berio to compose a concerto for Michele, to which he responded with his colorful orchestration of the first Brahms clarinet sonata. Michele can also be heard across a selection of film soundtracks as well including scores by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and the Oscar-winning John Williams, whose elusive 1991 clarinet concerto was given to Michele to premiere.
Even in the early days of her orchestral position, Michele was cultivating a profile as a soloist and chamber musician. 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 also toured and played with noted violinists Gidon Kremer and Pinchas Zukerman, and appeared at festivals such as Spoleto, Lochinhaus, Korsholm, Schlesswig-Holstein and Santa Fe. She’s also performed several works written for clarinet and orchestra, spanning the Corigliano concerto to the Mozart, and from Weber concertino—which she recorded for Decca with the LA Philharmonic—to Busoni’s. Her warm, sonorous playing has also been documented on premiere record labels such as CBC, Nonesuch, and Philips.
“You are a star.”Esa Pekka Salonen