Obituary: Former Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Member Joseph Rabbai Passes at 81

By Francisco Salazar

Former Principal Clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Joseph Rabbai has passed away at the age of 81.

According to Joffe Woodwinds’ Facebook page, Rabbai died of Heart surgery.

In a statement, the organization said, “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. I will be posting an extended tribute on my website in the days to come.

Born in 1938 in New York, Rabbai studied at Temple University in Philadelphia and at the Juilliard School. After Juilliard, he went on to perform as Principal clarinet with the American Symphony Orchestra (under Leopold Stokowski), the Israel Philharmonic, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He also played clarinet in the New York City Opera Orchestra.

In 1980 he was appointed Principal Clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 1980 and performed with the company until 2003. He also performed with The Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City for two decades starting in 1971.

Rabbai also appeared with the New York Philomusica and at The Caramoor Festival.

Outside of his performance career, Rabbai taught clarinet and chamber music at Queens College, Brooklyn College, The Graduate School of the City University of New York, The State University of New York at Purchase as well as at New Jersey City University.

He also recorded a number of albums including works by Ned Rorem, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Olivier Messaien.