Making Sense of One Death Among 100,000

Wynn Hausser
5 min readMay 27, 2020
Maestro Joel Revzen, 1946–2020.

As I described in COVID CHRONICLES DAY 0, we were in New York City in early March, and attended a benefit gala concert and dinner while there. Lisa experienced her first symptoms on the flight home the next day. Here is a paragraph from that post (emphasis added).

Lisa spent one night hanging with a close composer friend, who ended up getting very sick. At the benefit dinner, they sat together. The person to the left of them is currently hospitalized on a respirator from the virus. But neither I, who was sitting next to Lisa (and subsequently quarantined with her for weeks), nor anyone else at our table got sick.

There were eight people at our dinner table. Three of them got the COVID-19 virus and showed symptoms. No one else at the table got symptoms, and there has been no confirmation that any of us got the virus, though we presume at least I did.

Flash forward to today. Lisa and her composer friend have both recovered from the virus, but are still challenged by ongoing exhaustion and the need to carefully pace themselves. The person at the table who was hospitalized? He died late afternoon Monday from coronavirus.

Obituary: Metropolitan Opera Conductor Joel Revzen Dies of COVID-19-Related Causes Maestro Joel Revzen has died at the age of 74 due to causes related to COVID-19

A biography excerpted from Joel Revzen’s website.

Maestro Joel Revzen was an award-winning conductor who led symphony and opera performances throughout North America and Europe. His active recording career included two releases with the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as critically acclaimed recordings with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Moscow Symphony, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and the Grammy-award winning The Art of Arleen Auger on which he was both pianist and conductor.

On the conducting staff of the Metropolitan Opera from 1999 until his passing, Joel made his MET debut in 2017 with two performances of Eugene Onegin starring Anna Netrebko and Peter Mattei. In 2018/19 he was Assistant Conductor for productions of La Fanciulla de West, Mephistophile, Rigoletto, and La Clemenza di Tito. In the 2019/20 season he will work on productions of Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Maestro Revzen held the position of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for Classical Tahoe starting with the festival’s inaugural season in 2012. Prior to that, he had a decade-long tenure with the Arizona Opera as Artistic Director/Principal Conductor, after 14 years as Artistic Director/Conductor of the Berkshire Opera.

As Guest Conductor, Maestro Revzen appeared all over the world. Recent world-wide performances included his debut with the Havana Chamber Orchestra (Cuba), leading a sold-out performance in Moscow (Russia) with star soprano Hibla Gerzmava, as well as engagements in Theater Erfurt, Germany conducting Carmen, and symphonic works and a concert of Gershwin’s music from Porgy and Bess for Festival Napa Valley.

Revzen was invited by Pinchas Zukerman to serve as Assistant Conductor of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, a post he held for five years, and was a conducting faculty member for nine summers at the Aspen Music Festival.

My Memories

I first met Joel four years ago this July. Every year for her work, my wife Lisa has to spend two weeks in Napa Valley at a music, food and wine festival. Lucky me, I get to tag along. In return, I help out wherever I can. Sometimes I step in as “ambassador,” keeping an eye out for people sitting at one of our tables while Lisa is elsewhere doing what she does.

That’s what I was doing when I saw Joel walk into dinner after finishing guest-conducting the orchestra in the concert we’d just seen. He didn’t seem to know exactly where he was headed. Knowing from Lisa that we had an extra seat at our table, I walked up and introduced myself as Lisa’s husband, told him how much I enjoyed the concert, and invited him to sit at our table. We had a wonderfully authentic conversation, which doesn’t always happen at these events. As everyone was leaving, he made a point of saying how much he enjoyed meeting me, and I told him likewise.

Every time I saw him subsequent to that meeting, I was greeted with his big warm smile, even when he didn’t remember my name at first. Over the past couple of years, he became one of those special people at the Festival outside of Lisa’s inner circle — someone with whom I had a real connection.

Making Sense of it All

Now Joel Revzen, whose life impacted so many, is another statistic, the victim of a virus we still don’t completely understand. It’s easy to direct anger at our leaders who failed to respond and warn us in time. Perhaps this is one of the deaths that could have been prevented. And one could send themselves into a death spiral trying to figure out how one of eight people sitting at the same dinner table died, two others got seriously sick, while five had no symptoms at all.

That’s to say nothing of the guilt. I can’t help but wonder: Did I give Joel the virus that ultimately killed him? I never developed symptoms. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have passed him the virus.

In the end, I have to accept — as all of us who were there do — that we’ll never know; that if we had known then what we know now, we all would have made different choices.

What’s called for today is celebrating and fondly remembering while we mourn. Joel Revzen lived a full 74 years of life. He shared the joy of music with his fellow musicians and audiences for more than three and a half decades. He was generous in paying it forward to the next generation. He was kind and real and full of love. He leaves behind his wife Cindy and daughter Shira. May they find solace in their grief.

May Joel Revzen’s memory be a blessing.



Wynn Hausser

Professional Communicator, Change Agent & Nonprofit Specialist. “COVID CHRONICLES” documents life under pandemic. Also write on sports, politics and life.