N.C. Symphony's principal clarinet retiring after 41 years

Jimmy Gilmore, the North Carolina Symphony’s long-time principal clarinet, will retire at the end of this season after 41 years with the orchestra, symphony officials announced Tuesday.

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Jimmy Gilmore
RALEIGH, N.C. — Jimmy Gilmore, the North Carolina Symphony’s long-time principal clarinet, will retire at the end of this season after 41 years with the orchestra, symphony officials announced Tuesday.

He is the longest-tenured member of the symphony and served under four of the symphony’s five music directors. Gilmore earned his position after auditioning for Benjamin Swalin in a Carnegie Hall rehearsal studio in spring 1969.

“Dr. Swalin gave me a thorough hearing,” Gilmore said. “He made me play the first movement of the Mozart Concerto and the entire first clarinet part to Strauss’s Don Juan. I was offered the principal clarinet position several weeks later, and came to North Carolina in the fall of 1969 after completing my tour of duty with the U.S. Army.”

Gilmore quickly established himself in a leadership role and "immediately got into trouble,” he said, “for founding the first orchestra committee. In 1970, we gained player participation in contract negotiations for the first time in the symphony’s history.”

As chairman of the orchestra committee for five years during hard times in the early 1990s, he spearheaded the reorganization of the symphony’s business plan and raised money for the orchestra. In 1999, he became president of Local #500 of the American Federation of Musicians, an organization that has grown from 130 to 230 members in the past nine years. He has been a member of the orchestra committee several times in the past eight years.

Gilmore also helped put the North Carolina Symphony on the map artistically by representing the organization as principal clarinet of the World Symphony Orchestra. He has been a soloist with the North Carolina Symphony on numerous occasions during his tenure, performing concertos by Mozart, Stamitz, Weber, Copland and Arnold, as well as Debussy’s Rhapsodie, Baermann’s Adagio and Weber’s Concertino.

Other performances that stand out for Gilmore were concerts with Elly Ameling, Alicia De Laroccha, Henryk Szyeryng, Joseph Silverstein, Pinchas Zuckerman, Lynn Harrell and Yo-Yo Ma.

“I would also have to include the experience of performing a Mozart aria at the front of the stage with Frederica Von Stade, and the many performances we did with André Watts over the years,” Gilmore said. “These had special meaning to me because I first performed with André when he was 19-years-old and I was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic.”

Gilmore’s 41-year perspective as a member of the North Carolina Symphony makes him uniquely qualified to note just how far the orchestra has come since 1969, growing from an expense budget of $411,269 in 1969 to a budget of more than $14 million four decades later.

This growth in both artistic quality and programming includes Summerfest, for which he wrote the first proposal in 1983. The summer outdoor concert series was approved by the board the following year and the now-popular annual tradition debuted at Meredith College in 1984.

“This was a musicians’ project administered by me, [assistant principal clarinet] Mike Cyzewski and [associate principal bass] Bob Anderson," Gilmore said. 

Summerfest moved to Cary’s Regency Park in 1986 and is one of the symphony’s most successful and long-running series.

Also a published writer, Gilmore’s articles have appeared in Our State magazine, The Spectator, ClariNetwork and the symphony’s magazine, Opus. In 1989, his one-act play The Picture Album won second prize in the Wachovia Playwrights Competition, a statewide contest. He is currently working on a book about musical life, based in part on his experiences with the North Carolina Symphony.

Upon his retirement, Gilmore will join the administrative staff as senior advisor and will work with President and CEO David Chambless Worters on educational outreach programs, lobbying and advocacy, documenting institutional history, writing, speaking and serving as goodwill ambassador on behalf of the symphony.

During the past 17 years, Gilmore has also performed with his wife, symphony associate principal cello Elizabeth Beilman, in Aurora Musicalis, the chamber music ensemble they founded together.

“We have performed extensively on major series in this area and recorded Echoes of America, composed for our group by Robert Ward and commissioned by the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, on Albany Records," Gilmore said. 

A native of Dallas, Texas, Gilmore is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where he was a student of Stanley Hasty. He received his master’s degree from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Leon Russianoff.

Before joining the North Carolina Symphony, Gilmore performed with the Rochester Philharmonic, the U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point, the United Nations World Symphony and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. He currently serves on the music faculties of Duke University and Meredith College, where he conducts the Meredith Wind Ensemble.