Death of a principled clarinettist

Death of a principled clarinettist


norman lebrecht

July 23, 2015

Jessica Duchen reports the death of her neighbour, John McCaw, at the age of 96.

Jack, a New Zealander, was principal clarinet of the New Philharmonia and the London Philharmonic in the glory days. He was old-school London muso, hard-working, unassuming, dazzling on his night. He played the first Nielsen concerto I ever heard.

Jack McCaw


Funeral details here. 


  • ruben greenberg says:

    An absolutely wonderful clarinetist…one of the greatest of the twentieth century. What’s more, as he was largely self-taught, he developed a unique style and tone that made him immediately identifiable. Rest in peace. A long and extremely worthwhile life.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    This is sad news. I remember talking to Jack when he regularly toured with the Philharmonia in Germany under Sinopoli in the 1980s: quiet, unassuming, charming and full of musical integrity.

  • Graeme Hall says:

    I remember from sometime in the mid 80s a Philharmonia performance of Pines of Rome where he produced a quite astonishing solo which blossomed into a sound that filled the entire Festival Hall. Come the end of the piece Esa-Pekka Salonen, who was conducting, before taking any bow or anything else, made his way through the strings and gave him a hug.

  • ruben greenberg says:

    I would like to add that he was the clarinetist’s clarinetist. As was the late Harold Wright of the Boston Symphony. Ask a number of clarinetists who their favorite clarinetists are and you will find John somewhere at the very top of the list.

  • Philippe Cuper says:

    A great artist and a charming man.
    His Nielsen concerto recording is full of music, we forget the clarinet !
    The recording named “the young Placido Domingo” has the solo of ” La Forza del Destino” by Verdi played by John Mac Caw , it is unique.
    A very great respect and admiration for him !

  • Chris Evernden says:

    I was priviledged to study with John McCaw , as a schoolboy from 1975 to 1977. He was both an outstanding player and teacher. I made a mistake and turned down an offer to continue with him at the RCM, and went to the RAM instead. A pity -, his Neilson concerto recording in particular was breathtaking. The epitome of a total natural, his unique tone and projection should serve as a lasting example to all who love the instrument. He was a supreme talent, and a musical genius.