This column is going to be about NPC members.
I am submitting my story as one of them.
On September 14, 2013, I became a widow. My husband Peter Simenauer died that day. He was the last of my family, because I lost my daughter and only child last August. Tara Heidi Simenauer. She was only 34.
Today, however, I would like to write a tribute about Peter Simenauer. My brother called him “the most humble guy I ever met.” Yet Peter was known worldwide in the symphonic music field, and he led a life that lent itself to history.
Born in Berlin, he and his family fled their homeland when he was only eight years old, and he was raised in China. Self-taught by his father during their spartan years in various parts of China, Peter became a child prodigy, learning the violin, viola, clarinet and saxophone.
Peter and his family fled China when the Chinese Communists came. His mother told him, “We are going to our spiritual homeland.” Israel. They were aboard the first free ship to come into the Israel harbor after it was declared a free nation by the U.N.
At first, Peter joined the police band in Jerusalem. Then, making his way to Tel Aviv, he auditioned under the baton of the famous American conductor Leonard Bernstein, who came to tour Israel. Bernstein not only selected Peter but also told him to look him up when he came to America.
Barely 18, Peter stepped onto the enormous symphonic stage for the first time, self-taught, and surrounded by the great European players who’d fled the Nazis and the Holocaust. But he was a great talent himself and blended in with what became Israel’s treasure–The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, considered one of the greatest orchestras in the world.
As a young artist, he was so gifted that he won the famous Mozarteum Competition and concertized worldwide. He spent nine years in Israel before coming to America.
In 1960 Peter auditioned again under the baton of Leonard Bernstein and became the New York Philharmonic’s Associate Principal and Solo E-Flat clarinetist. He stayed for 38 years.
When I met Peter in New York, I truly met the man of my dreams. Peter Simenauer. I loved him with a love that I thought existed only in the movies. And he returned that love to me. He was sensitive yet exciting, strikingly handsome. He embodied kindness beyond words.
When we married he told me he now has two loves – his clarinet and me.
We met and married within eight months. Life with Peter was always exciting. For example, I would always know when the New York Philharmonic didn’t sell out. That meant the orchestra would have to “paper the house,” as we called it. I would call all of my friends and relatives and give them free tickets.
I traveled the world with Peter and the orchestra. When Ronald Reagan was in the White House, he invited then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to visit the U.S. He also invited Zubin Mehta, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic at that time, who had been born in India, to come play.
Gandhi then invited Mehta to bring the prodigal son home to India, so I accompanied Peter. The TV show “20-20” was also on our chartered jet and created a segment about how the prodigal son returns home.
Peter said he had traveled all over the world, except for Africa. When we first got married, I went to Moscow and Leningrad with the orchestra–a great honeymoon for me. We got lost one day while walking around Moscow. I got scared. All of a sudden I heard this man conversing in Russian with a passerby. I turned around and saw that it was Peter speaking in fluent Russian. I had no idea he spoke that language. He was so modest that he never told me he spoke Hebrew, German, Russian and some Chinese. He did teach me one Chinese word – “wa a nee” – which means “I love you.”
I remember one day as a newlywed Peter got a call from a man he called Benny.
He chatted a long time, protested a bit, and then said he would do it. “Who is this Benny?” I asked. “Benny Goodman wants me to help him with his reeds,” he said. I had no idea he even knew Benny Goodman. Later, when Benny Goodman played a benefit for the Morgan Library in New York, he asked Peter to play with him.
I am sure many of us have suffered losses–our wives, our husbands, maybe even our children. We honor them if we can go on. I am trying.