Met suffers second woodwind loss

Hours after the death of principal bass clarinet Joe Ognibene, we learn of the passing of the veteran principal clarinet Joe Rabbai.

Joe joined the Met in 1980 from the Israel Philharmonic, and retired in 2003. He died following heart surgery. He was 81.

Joseph Rabbai was born in New York on August 23, 1938.  He studied at Temple University in Philadelphia and at the Juilliard School.  After Juilliard, Joseph Rabbai went on to a career as Principal clarinet in a series of leading orchestras: the American Symphony Orchestra – New York under Leopold Stokowski, the Israel Philharmonic and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  He also played clarinet in the New York City Opera Orchestra.  Joseph Rabbai was appointed Principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 1980.  For two decades beginning in 1971, Joseph Rabbai was Principal clarinet with The Mostly Mozart Festival summers in New York City.

From Joffe Woodwinds: Joe Rabbai was a longtime friend, teach and colleague and someone who I dearly loved. He passed away this morning as a result of complications from heart surgery. Joe had a magnificent career as the principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Mostly Mozart Orchestra, the American Symphony Orchestra, among others as well as a well respected chamber player. He was a musician who cared about every note and phrase he played, whether at a rehearsal or concert. He loved sharing his knowledge as a teacher and represented the finest example of “old school” as a player and a gentleman.

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  • He used to say his family said “Oggnibean.” But he worked in opera and was never ignorant about anything. This made me weep. I will surely miss him.

  • Joe Rabbai was the ultimate clarinet/musician who was also the most decent man one could hope to meet. He had one of the most illustrious careers of any clarinetist in NYC—principal clarinet of the Met Opera Orchestra, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, American Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic and a member of the NYC Opera Orchestra as well. An active chamber player and teacher, Joe covered it all and with great dignity. Always self-effacing, he never touted his accomplishments. generous to his friends and students, he set an example of how a professional should carry himself.

    As a longtime friend and former student, I feel blessed to have known him and shared musical and personal time together. Always a devoted father to his talented, loving daughter Debbie Rabbai, Joe was as good a human being as I’ve met. I was honored to call him my friend. RIP.
    -Ed Joffe

  • I agree with Ed – Joe was a lovely guy in every way. Within the first few moments after we met, he asked me who was the finest conductor I’d ever heard – without skipping a beat, I said Carlos Kleiber – Joe said, “Right on”, and our friendship was born. I’ll miss him forever.
    Bob Schiffmann

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