$100 Million Clarinetist – The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Yesterday’s Boston Globe took note of a heart-warming donation of $100 million to the Boston University Medical School, which will be renamed the Aram V. Chobanian and Edward Avedisian School of Medicine. A photograph identified the donor, Edward Avedisian, “a retired clarinetist and philanthropist,” and it impressed me that the paper mentioned “clarinetist” first. “All right, so I made a few dollars,” he said, and I am sure he made the money in other enterprises than music, but “clarinet” stuck with me because I remembered Ed Avedisian from when we were students at Tanglewood in summer 1959. I didn’t know him well; I was a 19-year-old sophomore, but he had already graduated from BU, was an official in the musicians’ union, and would play from time to time with the Boston Pops. Chobanian, his close friend ever since they were children growing up in Rhode Island, later became Dean at the med school.

What I especially remember about Edward Avedisian from 63 years ago was his unusually large and oddly-shaped clarinet case. When he opened it, I saw four instruments: the standard B-flat and A, plus E-flat and D, and mouthpieces to fit. I never saw another case like it. Because hardly anybody plays a D clarinet anymore; the single famous use of it is the death shriek in Till Eulenspiegel. The score of The Rite of Spring specifies a solo D clarinet at no. [4] and even more after no. [9], but in later years Stravinsky wrote that this should be played on the E-flat clarinet instead. An E-flat clarinet is specified in Revueltas’s Sensemayá but pp. 4-7 of the score show a part that is obviously incorrectly written for D clarinet — likely an oversight by the composer himself. How often did Ed Avedisian take the D clarinet out of the case? I’d want to ask him, parenthetically, while congratulating him for his outstanding generosity to one of America’s great medical schools.

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