Dr. Arno P. Drucker, former principal pianist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra who was also a teacher and author, died July 15 of melanoma at the Gilchrist Center in Towson. The longtime Pikesville resident was 85.
“Arno Drucker was a major player on the local music scene in this town,” said Tom Hall, former director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, who is host of WYPR’s “Midday." “He was a great guy, and he and his wife, Ruth, were a power music couple in Baltimore.”
Arno Paul Drucker, the son of Albert Drucker, an attorney, and his wife, Gertrude Shindler Drucker, was born and raised in Philadelphia. After the death of his mother when he was a boy, his father sent him to the Ventnor Private School in Margate, N.J., where a piano teacher introduced him to the piano.
“He was 6 years old when his mother died," said his wife of 64 years, the Viennese-born soprano, the former Ruth Landes. “He was a lonely little boy and learned the piano because he wanted to please his father.”
Something of a child prodigy, Dr. Drucker was 13 when he performed as a solo pianist in Felix Mendelssohn’s “G Minor Piano Concerto” with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
After graduating from Philadelphia’s Central High School in 1951, Dr. Drucker earned his bachelor’s degree in 1954 in piano and a master’s degree in 1955 in music literature, both from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he also obtained his performer’s certificate.
While at Eastman, he met and fell in love with his future wife, whom he married in 1955, and after their graduation, both received Fulbright grants for further education in Austria, where they both studied at the Akademie in Vienna and the Mozarteum in Salzburg.
As a performing couple, they had careers as collaborators, performers and teachers that lasted for more than six decades and ended only with Dr. Drucker’s death.
Drafted into the Army in 1957, he toured with the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra where he performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 throughout Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg as well as the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. He also gave several performances of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Discharged from the Army in 1959, Dr. Drucker became an assistant professor and later chairman of West Virginia University’s Applied Music Department. He also was a member of the university’s American Arts Trio, which included cellist Jon Engberg and violinist Donald Portnoy.
The trio toured Germany, Mexico, and throughout the U.S., performing at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle and twice at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Dr. Drucker also performed as a soloist in Germany, Belgium and Holland, and with symphony orchestras in Baltimore and Washington, and with the summer programs in Chautauqua, N.Y., Augusta, Ga., and New Haven, Conn.
He continued his schooling in 1965 at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he studied piano with György Sándor, with whom he first studied in 1953 at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, Calif. He earned his Ph.D. in 1970 in musical arts from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he had studied with famed pianist Leon Fleisher.
“I don''t think that I’m being hyperbolic about this, but Arno was the brightest person I ever knew,” said Carolyn Black-Sotir, a vocalist and author of “By George! By Ira! By Gershwin!” “He was the ultimate musical interpreter who paid attention to detail and was so nuanced in his playing.”
In 1967, he left West Virginia University, and from 1968 to 1995, he was professor of music at the Community College of Baltimore County Essex, where he built a strong department and was department chair for 14 years. He was also a part-time graduate faculty member and dissertation adviser at Peabody from 1977 to 1985.
“Arno was a natural teacher and you could tell he was a good teacher because when he stood up to talk, he had such a nice delivery,” Ms. Black-Sotir said. “And he was an incredibly generous person with his time.”
“A well-educated music teacher can teach any adult how to play the piano in half an hour, but to read fluently takes practice,” Dr. Drucker told The Evening Sun in a 1981 interview.
From 1970 to 1990, Dr. Drucker was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s principal pianist, performing under conductors Sergiu Comissiona, David Zinman and guest conductors.
He was the founding artistic director in 1978 of the Festival Chamber Players, which presented summer chamber music concerts at what is now Towson University and at the Baltimore Museum of Art from 1978 until 1988.
Family members said Dr. Drucker’s “real love” was performing with his wife. The couple gave recitals and master classes over several decades with him as accompanist, which took them throughout the nation as well as Canada, Germany and Indonesia.
In 1970, the Druckers performed Aaron Copland’s song cycle, “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson,” for the composer at the Baltimore Chamber Music Society concert series to celebrate Copland’s 70th birthday.
“On multiple occasions, Copland said that these were his favorite compositions and that our interpretation of these songs were the finest he ever heard,” Mrs. Drucker said.
Dr. Drucker continued performing until a few months before his death. Earlier this year, he accompanied mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.
His last public performance was March 10, when he performed “Rhapsody in Blue” at the Scott Center at Carroll County Community College, as part of “By George! By Ira! By Gershwin.”
“I think Arno did the finest interpretation of the Rhapsody in Blue and I was always so moved by his interpretation,” Ms. Black-Sotir, a vocalist, said. “He took such a classy approach to the Rhapsody and if Gershwin had heard him playing it, he would no doubt give him a standing ovation. I was so honored to have him play it.”
Ms. Black-Sotir said that Dr. Drucker played the signature Gershwin piece right before he was to start treatment for his melanoma.
“He brought an energy and focus to the Rhapsody" she said.
“I depended on him as a pianist for a score of years,” said Saul Lilienstein, a musicologist for the Washington National Opera who had been director of the Handel Choir of Baltimore and Harford Choral Society, and for many years was artistic director and conductor of the Harford Opera Theatre.
“His knowledge was extensive and he was generous to all he worked with,” Mr. Lilienstein said. “We have been close musical associates for years and I first got to know Arno when he came to Baltimore. He and his wife were among my very closest friends. I loved him as a human being and greatly admired him.”
Dr. Drucker was the author of “American Piano Trios: A Resource Guide,” that was published in 1999 by Scarecrow Press.
In addition to music, Dr. Drucker’s other interests were computers and he was an active member of Maryland Apple Corps. He also was a stamp collector.
In 1995, Dr. Drucker and his wife endowed the Ruth and Arno Drucker Fund at Towson University, the Ruth and Arno Drucker Scholarship in 2001 at the Eastman School of Music, the Ruth and Arno Drucker Scholarship in 2001 at Peabody, and the Ruth and Arno Drucker Chair in 2002 at the Walden School.
“His death is a huge loss for us all,” Ms. Black-Sotir said.