Maurice Kaplow, a respected ballet conductor who died on Aug. 11 at the age of 90, was a betting man.
At the end of his life, as his health was worsening, he bet that he could finally have a bar mitzvah; though it ended up being via Zoom, he was correct. He loved craps, and a Chinese game called pai gow, too. When his son Larry told him that he was going to try his hand at becoming a novelist, Kaplow encouraged him to go for it, safety net be damned.
But it’s the biggest bet of his life — leaving a stable job with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1963 to start Pennsylvania Orchestra, which would join forces with Barbara Weisberger and Pennsylvania Ballet — that astounds his family to this day.
“In true Kaplow form,” said his son, Dan Kaplow, “he succeeded.”
Like a lot of his bets, it paid off. Kaplow was the musical director of Pennsylvania Ballet for 25 years, touring the world and gaining a reputation among dancers, musicians and fellow conductors as an eminently kind, thoughtful colleague with a knack for teaching and a uniquely even-keeled temperament for his profession.
Martha Koeneman, who came to Pennsylvania Ballet as a pianist in 1973, noted Kaplow’s penchant for deep conversation, along with his sense of fun. But most importantly, she believes, he was invested in her improvement as a musician.
“His constant presence of mentorship is really one of the most important things that I can take away from the experience of working with him,” she said.
In 1991, Kaplow stepped down from Pennsylvania Ballet and began a long association with the New York City Ballet; when he retired in 2010, having been made a principal conductor in 2005, he was feted with a lavish celebration covered in The New York Times. Arturo Delmoni, concertmaster of New York City Ballet, recalls wonderful, languid evenings of good food, good wine and brilliant insight from Kaplow into the tricks of the conducting trade, evenings that he can remember beat-by-beat.
“I loved him as a conductor and a musician, and I loved him as a teacher,” Delmoni said. “But most of all, I loved him as a friend.”
Kaplow, “Maury” to those who knew him, was born in Cleveland to an Orthodox immigrant from Russia. He began playing violin at 3, and earned an undergraduate degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and a master’s from the Eastman School of Music. Prior to arriving in Philadelphia, he played with Louisville Orchestra and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kaplow’s lifelong engagement with music and ballet was rivaled in length only by his other loves: books, Judaism and the Philadelphia Eagles. Growing up, Kaplow’s father wished to shield him from anti-Semitism, and Judaism was deemphasized in the family home. But Kaplow never gave up his passionate interest in Jewish texts, eventually celebrating the bar mitzvah he missed as a young man. That it was so long delayed did nothing to dampen its meaning for him; ditto for the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory.
Perhaps no relationship of Kaplow’s compares to the one he had with his wife, Judy. The pair celebrated their 60th anniversary just a few days before his death.
“Like everyone would say, you always have a very special relationship with him,” said his son, Lawrence Kaplow. “But I know firsthand, as being his son, that the relationship he had with me, he had with everyone. Everyone who came in contact with him, they experienced the same man.”
Kaplow is survived by his wife, Judy; his sons, Lawrence, Brian and Dan; his sister, Linda; and five grandchildren.
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