Music greats hail Tuckwell

January 26, 1997


Staff Writer

BALTIMORE - After 50 years of performing for others, Maestro Barry Tuckwell had his turn in the audience as 165 friends and fellow musicians turned out Saturday to pay tribute to the man they called "the greatest French horn player who ever lived."

The tributes commemorating Tuckwell's last public performance on the French horn had the crowd laughing through their tears at the Harbor Court Hotel at the Inner Harbor.

R.W. "Johnny" Apple, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, toasted Tuckwell, who he first befriended while the two were in London 25 years ago.


"To a man with the wisdom to go out at the top, like Joe DiMaggio," Apple said. "(To) the greatest horn player at least since Gabriel."

Jim Lehrer of the News-Hour on PBS repaid a debt to Tuckwell owed when Tuckwell played at his daughter's wedding a couple of years ago by serving as master of ceremonies.

"I'm sure that some of you are thinking `what is this guy doing here?'" he said. "Our friendship is relatively new, but it's deep and it's going to go on forever. And for Barry and me, forever is still a long, long way."

A letter from President Clinton was read, praising Tuckwell as "a true American treasure."

Tuckwell, 65, a Hagerstown resident, also received a letter from Johns Hopkins University notifying him that he was up for the George Peabody Medal for contribution to music.

Pianist George Shearing recalled working on an album with Tuckwell years before. "We seemed to breathe together the moment we sat down to play," he said. "Barry Tuckwell loves the world and the world loves Barry Tuckwell, and be it ever thus."

Shearing then played a song for Tuckwell, before inviting him to join in. "I can't stand it - being in a room with Barry Tuckwell and a horn and not have him come up and join me."

The two waltzed through Cole Porter tunes - "I've Got You Under My Skin," "In the Still of the Night," and "After You."

"Our last effort for the day is a question," Shearing said. "`Do I Love You?' And Barry Tuckwell, I do."

"I know I will never forget these last few minutes," Lehrer said afterward.

Nancy Cochran Block, President of the International Horn Society, which Tuckwell helped found and served as its first president, called Tuckwell "an inspiration to all of us." The May issue of the group's magazine, The Horn Call, will be devoted to the maestro, she said.

Block presented Tuckwell with a puppet of himself, complete with French horn.

"To horn players around the world, you can all move up a seat," said musician John Wates.

Twelve horn players also joined together in a song titled "Old Friend."

Transatlantic phone calls from Tuckwell's friends and a video-collage of his life topped off the tributes.

Finally, it was Tuckwell's turn to speak.

Tuckwell humbly called his last performances a "poor old swan song," but thanked his friends for turning out.

"It couldn't have been a better farewell," he said. Tuckwell said he enjoyed performing and making the music more than just a stream of notes. "If you play for the notes alone, it doesn't mean anything...That's why performing keeps music alive."

Tuckwell left open the possibility that he will play the horn again - on another album with Shearing. He said he intentionally skipped the last note of his last Mozart concerto. "There's one more note to come perhaps, who knows?"

Until then, Tuckwell said he was happy to be going on with his other projects including teaching and conducting. He said his farewell wasn't bittersweet - only sweet.

"Why should I feel upset? I have not retired. I have not quit music. I'm just not practicing anymore."

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