The Seattle Symphony’s Efe Baltacigil
may not know it, but he has a teenage fan club.
After the orchestra’s Bartók/Dvorák/Mozart concert last Saturday, a group of nattily dressed youngsters — high-school-age, to my eye — chattered outside Benaroya Hall about the show.
“Did anyone notice the principal cellist who played his cello like a bass?” one asked.
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“He was a bit mad!” another exclaimed.
Nods of awe and admiration all around.
If they were referring to Baltacigil’s playing on Dvorák’s “The Noonday Witch,” they should snap up tickets for next week’s Symphony program. Its centerpiece is Dvorák’s Cello Concerto, the Czech composer’s final concerto — and Baltacigil, a marvelous player, brings some deep background to it.
He first performed it for his graduation recital in 1998 at Mimar Sinan University Conservatory in Istanbul, where he grew up. Soon afterward he won an Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra concerto competition and played the Dvorák as his first professional engagement.
“Since then I’ve played it a few other times, including in Ankara, the capital of Turkey,” he said in an interview at Benaroya Hall last week. “This is the first time I’m playing it in the U.S., which is very exciting because this piece has so much Americana in it. Bluegrass, folk … it has everything.”
That’s especially true, he says, in its bucolic second movement: “You can really smell upstate New York — in a good way.”
The piece dates from 1894-1895, during Dvorák’s 3-year residence in the U.S., the same period that produced his Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”).
“For many cellists, this is one of the grandest, most sought-after, substantial parts of every cellist’s repertoire,” Baltacigil said. Some of its eloquence, he believes, has to do with its background story. Dvorák had finished it when he heard his beloved sister-in-law was gravely ill. After her death, he revised the final movement to include her favorite song of his: “Leave Me Alone” from his Four Songs, Op. 82.
“It’s very moving. The cello disappears into the mist and the orchestra picks up and there’s a big fanfare — love, triumph. … It’s really a wonderful progression and transformation,” he adds, “one of the finest journeys a cellist can go through. So I’m very eager to share this with the music lovers of Seattle.”
Baltacigil brings his own family story to his interpretation of the piece. He and his wife recently became parents: “We have a three-month-old baby and she’s a wonderful jewel. She treats us so well! She’s very patient with us. She seems to like my cello practicing at home. And that’s the best gift I could ask for.”
She figures, he says, in his interpretation of the Dvorák: “The emotional range of this concerto is so vast, and she makes a wonderful centerpiece for my idea.”
As for Baltacigil’s basslike behavior on the cello, there may be some family influence at work there as well. His father, Yaz, is principal double-bassist with the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, while one of his brothers, Fora, is principal double-bassist with the New York Philharmonic.
Speaking of New York, next week’s concerts offer a sneak peek at the Symphony’s Carnegie Hall concert on May 6. Its gig there is part of “Spring for Music,” a festival designed to showcase North American orchestras’ “artistic philosophies through distinctive and adventurous programming.”
SSO is one of six orchestras to make the final cut — a great honor. Debussy’s “La Mer” and Varèse’s “Déserts” (being played with the Dvorák next week) are on the Carnegie Hall program, along with John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean,” which had its world premiere at Benaroya Hall last year.
“We’re all very eager and looking forward to being there,” Baltacigil says, adding with a sly smile, “To play in, after Benaroya, one of the finest concert halls in the U.S.? Why not?”
The SSO is offering travel packages for fans to travel to New York with the symphony for its big gig; visit www.seattlesymphony.org for information.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org