Jim Ognibene, former Principal Bass Clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, passed away on August 11, 2020 at the age of 72. Jim played with the Met for 33 years, and clarinetists worldwide have enjoyed his performances and recordings. One notable recording is Wagner’s Ring Cycle on the Deutsche Gramophone label. Before his appointment with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Jim was a member of the Charlotte Symphony, United States Marine Band, and White House Orchestra in Washington D.C. He participated in and taught at many festivals around the world, including the Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland. In addition to his musical talents, Jim was known for his warm and genuine personality.
Let us celebrate the life, legacy, and music of this legendary clarinetist.
Here are a few quotes and tributes that clarinetists shared on Facebook:
“Jim Ognibene was an inspiration on every front. His gentle and caring personality touched everyone around him, his sharp wit often had the section cracking up (especially in performance!), and his beautiful personality shone through in every note that he played.
When trying clarinet equipment or reeds he would (without fail) twirl his finger to illustrate the special “glow” and “spin” that he was after in his sound and in his phrasing. These qualities seemed to exist so effortlessly in his playing, yet anyone who knew him knows that he worked tirelessly to achieve them. Hearing him play endless phrases in Die Walküre or Aida was a mesmerizing experience, and are memories that I will forever be inspired by. We’ll miss you Jim.” – Anton Rist, Principal Clarinet MET Orchestra
“To my truly great mentor, colleague, and friend Jim. I loved your great playing and your musical phrasing. Your bass clarinet sound had such a great soul. I will miss you so much my hero.” Inn-Hyuck Cho, Principal Clarinet MET Orchestra
“For 18 years, I sat next to this humble, hilarious, incredible person. We saw each other through many ups and downs, always with respect and a LOT of laughter. My heart is so heavy that we have lost this gentle giant of the bass clarinet. Words really cannot do him full justice, so for now, we hold him and his family in our hearts…” Jessica Phillips, Second Clarinet MET Orchestra.
“Jim Ognibene was the most supportive, kind, generous, and funniest person I’ve ever worked with. He was a consummate professional, an amazing musician, and a beautiful soul. I will forever be grateful for everything I learned from him not only as a musician but as a person. I will miss you my dear friend.” – Dean LeBlanc, Clarinet and Bass Clarinet MET Orchestra
“Jim called the many lovely clarinet duets in the repertoire “buddy music”. It was in that generosity of spirit that we played and enjoyed the long performances in the pit. His endearing interactions inspired us all. I will forever miss his sweet and funny disposition, as well as his great musicianship.” – Ricardo Morales, Principal Clarinet Philadelphia Orchestra, Former Principal Clarinet MET Orchestra
“I played with Jim for ten years at the MET. My earliest and fondest memories of playing in the MET involved Jim by my side playing Bb clarinet or A when he begrudgingly had to play second clarinet sometimes, even though in his hands, the Bass clarinet was an instrument of otherworldly beauty. With his self deprecating humor and perfect comedic timing he’d always have us in stitches during long rehearsals or slightly less than interesting operas. Jim was an amazing musician and the most humble musician I’ve ever known. The sounds Jim would make when he would play Aida or Wagner. Wow. People say this piece or that piece was made for some player or another but, with Jim and those operas, it was true. I’ll miss him greatly.” Anthony McGill, Principal Clarinet New York Philharmonic, Former Principal Clarinet MET Orchestra
“No words could properly define Jim Ognibene, but I will try nonetheless. If ever there was a saint on this earth it was Jim. I have never known a man with more humility, kindness, humor, and depth of love as a friend and father. He is perhaps the greatest musician I will ever know. Jim was my friend, my mentor, and a role model for anyone who had the honor of knowing him. He is irreplaceable on so many levels. We are all saddened by his passing and I will miss him eternally.” Stephen Williamson, Principal Clarinet Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Former Principal Clarinet MET Orchestra
“Brilliant man and huge inspiration during my MET Opera years. True musician and amazing human being. You will be missed, dear Jim. Rest In Peace” – Boris Allakhverdyan, Principal Clarinet Los Angeles Philharmonic, Former Principal Clarinet MET Orchestra
“Jim Ognibene was my best friend during my eleven years at the MET. We carpooled for 5 years and sat next to each other for 11. He was kind and thoughtful, and the funniest person I’ve ever met. About Gotterdammerung, he once said: “You know, Sean, there’s nothing I want to do for six hours.” After a particularly brisk Gran Partita Adagio, he said “I did it all in one breath.” When frustrated, he would say “I hate the Bass Clarinet” (or Basset Horn – we once staged pictures of him flushing one down a toilet!), but he is still the finest master of those two instruments I ever heard. His artistry was superior, and so was his heart. I will miss him.” -Sean Osborn, Former Second and Eb Clarinet MET Orchestra
“Today I am mourning the loss of a dear friend, a beautiful spirit, a true human being, a musical idol and the most inspiring colleague I had the privilege to work with. His incredible artistry, kindness, keen sense of humor, will be remembered forever. He is gone and I am left with a huge hole in my heart.”- Pavel Vinnitsky, Associate Musician, Clarinet MET Orchestra
“So sad to hear of the passing of Jim Ognebene. Jim was a Marvelous Musician, a Wonderful Person and a true friend. He will be greatly missed. Our sincere sympathy to his Family” – Mitch Weiss, Associate Musician, Clarinet MET Orchestra