The summer concerts under the stars at Lewisohn were very special. The acoustics seemed to me to be excellent. One of the orchestra’s signature pieces in those years was Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, which could be said to be for Piano and Trumpet. Gershwin’s friend and actor-wit-musician Oscar Levant was at the piano. Vacchiano was in his element. No one who heard him in the long strange solo that occupies much of the second movement could ever forget his haunting and eloquent performance. Another high point came at the end of Gershwin’s American in Paris when Vacchiano unleashed a high C of stupendous volume that reverberated off the buildings around the stadium like a DiMaggio home run ball bouncing off the seats in the bleachers.
Other than these memories, there are the recordings. Two stand out in my mind – one martial and virtuosic, the other lyrical and languid. He can be heard up close playing the cornet solos – a fanfare and a sort of obligato – with the Philharmonic in the recording of Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 2 conducted by Leonard Bernstein. It is superb in every way. Well known was his long solo with the Philharmonic in Aram Khatchaturian’s Masquerade Suite in which he floats the mysterious theme over the rustling of the orchestra.
From 1957 to 1973, Bernstein was principal conductor of the Philharmonic and Vacchiano can be heard on all of the recordings with the orchestra made during that period – recordings of Copland, Ives, Schumann, Hayden and the others that Bernstein interpreted so well. Someone said in a blog that Bernstein’s enormous success with the orchestra was due in no small part to his good fortune in having Vacchiano in the orchestra. Vacchiano retired from the orchestra in 1973, around the time that Bernstein left after nearly 40 years of service.
It must be a mark of Vacchiano’s dedication to the orchestra that in all his years as a member he never missed a concert in which he was scheduled to play. In all fields, the greats seem to have a fanatical attendance record. My impression is that DiMaggio, a rookie with the Yankees around the time that Vacchiano started with the Philharmonic,