The Philadelphia Orchestra may lose another star

Efe Baltacigil's departure would put him among eight or nine players leaving the ensemble.
Efe Baltacigil's departure would put him among eight or nine players leaving the ensemble. (MICHAEL PEREZ / File photograph)
Posted: May 14, 2011

On the heels of Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales' decision to take a post with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia is facing the possible departure of another star.

Efe Baltacigil has won the principal cello auditions at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Baltacigil, 32, currently associate principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, captured the spot Monday in auditions at Seattle's Benaroya Hall.

He has not decided whether to take the job.

"It is all very recent, so I need to evaluate things very carefully, of course," the cellist wrote in an e-mail. "I have meetings coming up with both managements, and then we will see the outcome. As we all know, these seats are very rare, so when there is an opening you have to try it. It keeps your playing in good shape."

If he leaves, he will be one of at least eight or nine Philadelphia Orchestra musicians moving on during a period of financial reorganization and labor strife. An orchestra spokeswoman Friday had no comment.

Orchestra fans responded with alarm. "How many will end up going elsewhere during the sturm und drang that has beset this organization? It is a travesty that this should happen in Philadelphia," said listener Barbara Woodin.

Morales last month announced he had accepted the principal clarinetist's job with the New York Philharmonic. José Maria Blumenschein, the orchestra's associate concertmaster, has been on leave this season to be co-concertmaster in the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and has resigned from Philadelphia. Stephen Wyrczynski, a violist in the orchestra since 1992, has been on leave to teach at Indiana University and has accepted a permanent tenured professorship there.

The loss of talent has been a major source of concern to players and listeners during the current organizational crisis. Blumenschein and Wyrczynski made their decisions to leave well before the orchestra board's April 16 vote to file for bankruptcy. Morales has declined to say what went into his decision.

In addition, five players have said they intend to retire after this season, an orchestra spokeswoman said. Eight or nine musicians' leaving at once is much higher than the norm. Typically in recent years, the orchestra has had two or three annual retirements plus one resignation, the spokeswoman said.

Players' committee chairman John Koen said that in addition to Baltacigil, he knew of five others auditioning for jobs or weighing teaching posts elsewhere.

Even the known departures will represent a lot of institutional memory walking out the door at the same time - and plain wonderful individual talent. Baltacigil would be a major loss.

"The music was delightful. Mr. Baltacigil's tone was warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch. Bach lilted and danced; Mr. Baltacigil danced along," wrote the New York Times in 2006 of a performance in Weill Recital Hall.

The Turkish-born Baltacigil came to the orchestra as assistant principal in 2002, just after graduating from the Curtis Institute, and became associate in 2003. His local profile received a boost in 2005 when a blizzard prevented orchestra musicians from reaching Verizon Hall and, with pianist Emanuel Ax, he performed Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 1 with only a few minutes of rehearsal. He won a 2005 Young Concert Artists International Audition, and has performed with Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, and Pinchas Zukerman.

The Seattle Symphony roster holds one other notable orchestra alum, executive director Simon Woods, who starts the job this month. He stepped down as Philadelphia's vice president of artistic planning and operations in 2004.


Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at pdobrin@phillynews.com or 215-854-5611. He blogs at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/ artswatch.

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