Clarinetist Joseph Rabbai, former Principal Clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, passed away on August 11, 2020 due to complications from heart surgery.
Joseph Rabbai was born on August 23, 1938 in New York, and he studied at Temple University and at the Juilliard School. He was Principal Clarinet in several orchestras including the American Symphony Orchestra (under Leopold Stokowski), Israel Philharmonic, New York City Opera Orchestra, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. He held the position of Principal Clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from 1980 until 2003.
In addition to performing, Rabbai also taught at Queens College, Brooklyn College, The Graduate School of the City University of New York, The State University of New York at Purchase, and New Jersey City University.
Let us celebrate the life, legacy, and music of this legendary clarinetist and pedagogue.
Joe was a longtime friend and colleague. From My earliest days in New York I remember Joe as always having a warm spark in his sound that was an extension of the warmth of his soul.
Being upper West side neighbors I remember with much fondness the the many times that Joe and I would sit together and watch our young daughters playing in the sandboxes alongside Riverside Drive.
It’s funny how those seemingly passing moments leave such a strong mark on the remembrances of such a fine human being.
I always felt it was an honor and privilege to work with Joe of which I did on many occasions. He could make the clarinet sing and heaven must be feeling that warmth today.
I’ll forever miss you Joe
Joseph Rabbai was my uncle. From as far back as I can remember he loved music. All of his brothers were musicians, so music must have been in his genes. He was the first in our family to attend and graduate from college, and the first to travel outside the country with his music. His diligence and hard word inspired my sister and I both to graduate from college even though girls supposedly didn’t need an education in those days. We remember hearing his many practices at our grandmother’s house when he lived in South Jersey years ago. I still remember the time he and my dad negotiated his contract before he signed on with the Israeli Philharmonic. We heard many exciting stories over the years – the time Benny Goodman was in the audience to hear him play – the times Tony Randall spoke with him after his performances – the time he met his soon-to-be wife our dear Aunt Yael when he was working in Israel. He was so very so very proud of his wonderful, talented daughter Debbie, and it was oh so hard for him to leave her. We will always love him and remember his kind heart, sense of humor and outstanding talent.