Andrew Pincus | Critic's Notebook: Remembering forgetful Doriot

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LENOX — There was the night flutist Doriot Anthony Dwyer played a recital at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. After the usual post-concert round of thank-yous and congratulations, she emerged from the museum to attend a reception in her honor at a Williams College faculty friend's house.

My wife and I were among the friends waiting for her to emerge. When she finally came out, the museum was darkened and locked behind her, and we all went to our cars.

But wait a minute! Doriot had forgotten her flute inside.

After considerable finagling, a guard was found to open the door. Doriot went back to her dressing room, retrieved her flute and rejoined the group. Somewhere toward midnight, the party commenced.

The stories of Doriot's forgetfulness are many, at least two other times — once in a New York taxi, once in Israel — involving a left-behind flute. More notably, surrounded mid-orchestra by 100 men in tuxedos, she stood out as not only a lone woman but also a superb flutist. She was the Boston Symphony Orchestra's principal flutist for 38 years — the first woman to occupy a BSO principal's chair.

Dead at 98, Doriot leaves behind a string of awards and accomplishments. With the BSO, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and other organizations, her multi-hued tone illuminated concertos, orchestral solos and chamber music. Perhaps most memorable was her svelte way with Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun."

Doriot came by her feminist trail-blazing rightly. She was a great grand-niece of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. Among major American orchestras, her BSO ascension in 1952 was preceded only by Helen Kotas, who became principal horn of the Chicago Symphony in 1941.

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Leading composers wrote pieces for her. Among them was Leonard Bernstein, who conducted her and the BSO at Tanglewood in the world premiere of his "Halil" (Hebrew for "flute"), a remembrance of an Israeli flute student killed in the 1973 Suez war. For her BSO farewell, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich composed a flute concerto, given its American premiere by Doriot and the BSO under Seiji Ozawa.

Musicians and critics, as I've said before, are different species, like cats and dogs. Socially, they're not supposed to mix, the idea on the critic's side being to keep him honest.

Doriot was one of two women musicians with whom I broke the rule, sort of. Kate and I befriended them after they retired, when I no longer had to review them. Neither had any prima donna airs, but Phyllis Curtin was easy. She was a friend first, a famous singer second. With Doriot, you could never quite forget you were in the presence of a woman who had struggled.

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The friendship began in China. The BSO was on a path-breaking tour there in 1979 and, thrown together in a foreign land, musicians and critics mingled freely. Through a journalist friend (male) who was much taken with Doriot, he and his wife and Kate and I began visiting with Doriot sporadically in Boston and the Berkshires. After her BSO retirement in 1990, the exchanges with Kate and me became freer, usually involving wine, dinner, music talk and, occasionally, overnights in Doriot's Brookline home.

This was the Doriot I knew, before I knew her:

In an interview, she once recalled her determination in approaching her momentous BSO audition with then BSO director Charles Munch.

"'I don't have a thing to worry about because I know they have some European flutist waiting to come in, because they always do that, and it's a man,'" she thought. "`They don't need me at all.' So I felt, well, this time I'm going to play a real audition for myself."

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And when she held out for greater pay than the BSO offered, she later told the Boston Globe, the then BSO manager said, "It's a lot of money for a little girl," "It's a big job," she replied.

She got the money.

Even in my day, men in the orchestra made remarks behind her back but accepted her as a full colleague. I don't remember her ever sniping at a colleague, although she could be critical of Ozawa. On the contrary, she was on best of terms with her partner in the wind section, principal oboist Ralph Gomberg.

For several years after formal BSO retirement, Doriot returned in summer to teach at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Less and less, our paths crossed. In the natural evolution of things, we drifted apart.     

I sometimes wonder what Doriot saw in someone like me. Oh, I had given her good reviews, which were no more than she deserved. But strangely, we talked. We talked about music, family (she had a daughter and was divorced) and the peculiarities of love. Perhaps she liked educating me about the inner workings of music. Perhaps she liked me educating her about how a critic listens. Or perhaps the connection was Kate. They talked liberally as women.                                                                                                                   

Anyway, Doriot died on March 14, following Phyllis as one more of the friends who have left me behind, and poorer for that.


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