The New York Philharmonic

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New York Philharmonic Principal Librarian Lawrence Tarlow got his start when, as a tubist in the Roslyn (Long Island) High School Band, he streamlined the system for handing out music at rehearsals. He attended The Juilliard School as a student of Joseph Novotny, former Principal Tuba of the New York Philharmonic, and graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he was student orchestra librarian. Before joining the Philharmonic in 1985, he served as librarian of the Berkshire (now Tanglewood) Music Center Orchestra, worked for the music publishers C.F. Peters Corporation and G. Schirmer, Inc., and became the Oklahoma Symphony’s first full-time librarian in 1977. During his 1979–85 tenure as librarian of the Atlanta Symphony, he also played the occasional second tuba part, including a recording of the Berlioz Requiem under then-music director Robert Shaw. Tarlow, who cites a love of “esoterica and trivia” as one of the reasons he enjoys his job, is an active member and former three-term president of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association. In August 2021, Lawrence Tarlow became the longest-tenured librarian in the history of the Philharmonic.

“Being an orchestral librarian fits my personality — I love process, esoterica, and trivia.”

Q&A with Lawrence Tarlow

THE FACTS: Born in Great Neck, New York, grew up in Roslyn. Studied tuba at The Juilliard School, both in the Pre-College Division and on the graduate level with Joseph Novotny, former Principal Tuba of the New York Philharmonic; bachelor’s from The Curtis Institute of Music, and student orchestra librarian. Prior to the Philharmonic: Librarian, Berkshire (now Tanglewood) Music Center; worked at C.F. Peters Corp. and G. Schirmer, Inc., Librarian, Oklahoma Symphony (1977–79) and Atlanta Symphony (1979–85), where he also played the occasional second tuba part. Outside activities: charter member and former president, Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association. At the Philharmonic: Joined in August 1985. 

EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY: At age six, putting a tambourine between my knees in music class and playing it like a bongo drum. The first piece of music I fell in love with was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. My parents had a recording, and to this day when I hear the work, I expect the music to skip just where that recording did. 

WHEN DID YOU TAKE UP THE TUBA? I started on the trumpet in school at age nine, went to baritone horn at ten, and at twelve took up the tuba. 

HOW DID YOU GET INTO ORCHESTRAL LIBRARIAN WORK? It fits my personality — I love process, esoterica, and trivia. In high school I streamlined the process of handing out music at rehearsals. At Tanglewood, I started to learn how to be an orchestral librarian. I’m still learning. 

DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO: Most important — keeping track of the collection, and putting the right piece of paper in front of the right person at the right time. Every piece of paper on stage passes through the library. We acquire and rent music; prepare bow markings as indicated by string section leaders; correct printing errors; and fix unworkable page turns. We put out and pick up the players’ parts and the conductors’ scores, and occasionally the conductor’s baton; keep performance records; and administer the database of artists, repertoire, and performances. 

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PROJECTS AT THE PHILHARMONIC? Our staged versions of Broadway shows: they’re not written for symphony orchestra and we have to make them work for the Philharmonic. 

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT WITH THE ORCHESTRA: Hearing European rhythmic applause for the first time, on the 1988 European tour. 

WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF NOT A LIBRARIAN? The tuba player at the New York Philharmonic! 

FAVORITE COMPOSER: Prokofiev — great use of the tuba. 

As of November 2012

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