Michael Bookspan, 73, orchestra percussionist

Posted: September 13, 2002

Michael Bookspan, 73, the tall, dashing percussionist who was a familiar sight to Philadelphia Orchestra audiences for nearly a half century, died yesterday morning in a hospital in Sarasota, Fla.

Mr. Bookspan, the orchestra's principal percussionist, who would have been on stage for opening night next week, suffered damage to a heart valve last week and never woke up after surgery on Saturday, his daughter said.

Known as Mickey, Mr. Bookspan danced through his work at the back of the ensemble for so long - and so vividly in recent years with his trademark mane of silvery hair - that the orchestra may be barely recognizable without him.

"So many people have told me that they know they're at the orchestra concert when they see him there," said fellow percussionist Anthony Orlando.

"The amazing thing was, to the last day he played, he loved to play, every time," said timpanist Don S. Liuzzi. "That's what made him the ultimate player's player."

While praised for his expertise in all of the dozens of instruments a percussionist is called upon to play, his cymbal playing won the greatest admiration.

In this, Liuzzi said, "he had no rival on the planet."

Mr. Bookspan was 24 when he joined the orchestra in 1953, the year he graduated from the Juilliard School, in the early part of the Eugene Ormandy era. He would ultimately see and hear the tenures of three music directors.

On Ormandy: "Ormandy routinely referred to the harps, trombones and percussion as loafers," Mr. Bookspan once said. "The secret to the sound was Ormandy's attention to the strings and the demands he placed on them."

On Ricardo Muti: "I have a lot of admiration for the man . . . but ultimately I don't think he was good for the orchestra."

About Wolfgang Sawallisch, "he would say he was a magnificent musician and that it was an honor to work with him," his wife, Shirley Bookspan, said.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bookspan was an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout winner. He studied with Saul Goodman, Morris Goldenberg and Fred Albright and played with the Little Orchestra Society of New York, the New York City Ballet, and the Xavier Cugat band, and was xylophone soloist with the U.S.O. and the U.S. Air Force Band.

He taught at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1980 until his death.

Mr. Bookspan is survived by his wife. He was previously married to Raquel Bookspan, who died in 1966, with whom he had one son, Adam; his first marriage, to Audrey Bookspan-Berg, a dancer who studied with Martha Graham, produced a daughter, Jolie.

Funeral services are private. A memorial service will be held later.

At Tuesday morning's rehearsal, the orchestra will play the slow movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in Mr. Bookspan's honor.

Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns contributed to this article.

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