a family affair

I was thrilled to discover this vintage documentary of the four DePasquale brothers, all of whom played in the Philadelphia Orchestra – at the same time!  I studied with Joseph, the violist, who was principal violist of the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky, and then was hired by Eugene Ormandy, later being joined by his brothers in the Philadephia Orchestra.  Classic stuff.

And here’s an article from TIME magazine, May 1966:

Francis: Actually —

Robert: You see, we’ve been playing together since birth and —

William: Oh c’mon. You make it sound like we were playing the violin

in the crib. I was at least six before —

Robert: I mean we can read each other’s minds; we —

Joseph: What it comes down to is a unity of thought.

Francis: However —

William: A unity of sound, really.

Francis: But —

Joseph: And temperament. Lots of Italian temperament.

Francis: Love! That’s what it is. We’re all hardheaded, but we’ve got lots of love.

As any scarred musician will attest, one of the quickest ways to lose friends is to engage in the precarious art of chamber music. With everyone trying to be boss, squabbles over interpretation can become downright nasty. And with the members of the de Pasquale String Quartet — Joseph, 45, viola; Francis, 44, cello; Robert, 37, and William, 32, violins — it’s even more so. They fight constantly. The difference is, they revel in it. But then they are brothers, and this, they explain, is the secret to successful shouting contests.

“With four strangers,” says Joseph, “you couldn’t insult each other the way we do. There is no malice, and we get it all out of our system. It’s very healthy.” All members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the brothers practice 20 hours a week at their old homestead in the Germantown section of the City of Brotherly Love. “When things get too violent,” explains Robert, “Mama has to come in from the kitchen to mediate.” There is nothing, they say, like Mama’s eggs in purgatorio (fried eggs smothered in sautéed tomatoes) and a spot of vino to cool a heated brow.

In Bold Relief. Last week the de Pasquale String Quartet made its Manhattan debut in Town Hall and all was sweet accord. Billed as the FIRST ALL-BROTHER QUARTET IN MUSICAL HISTORY, they were a trifle jittery in the opening Hayden Quartet in D Minor, Op. 76, but soon found their stride. Turning to the contemporary, their readings of Quincy Porter’s Quartet No. 3 and Vin cent Persichetti’s Quartet No. 2 crackled with clean precision. In Dvorák’s Quar tet in F Major, Op. 96, their tempos, if sometimes inflexible, were brisk and lively, their tone as rich and heady as a draught of May wine. Neither muscular nor mushy, their approach was marked by a warmth and intuitive sensitivity that projected the sweep of the music in bold relief.

For the brothers de Pasquale, the concert was the realization of an old man’s dream. Papa de Pasquale, an im migrant violin teacher, had one ideal in life: to raise a professional string quartet. But in Germantown baseball was the thing, and the de Pasquale boys were forever tossing their baseball equipment out of the second-floor window and sneaking off to the diamond. On Sunday afternoons, however, they were held captive in the living room and made to listen to recordings by Kreisler and Casals. “That’s what it should sound like,” Papa would say, and then he would lead the boys through their paces. If a little extra encouragement was needed, Papa administered a smart rap on the head with his violin bow. Gradually, recalls Francis, “we learned to love, chamber music as much as he did.”

Lone Regret. As their careers blossomed, the brothers agreed that each would go his own way until the time was ripe for them to form the quartet. At 21, Francis was accepted by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Joseph went on to distinguish himself as principal violist with the Boston Symphony and to record trios with Heifetz and Piatigorsky. Robert joined the New York Philharmonic, and William, at 25, was appointed concertmaster of the New Orleans Philharmonic. Their father died in 1956, but each summer the brothers returned home for two months of intensive practice. Then, in 1963, William won a position with the Philadelphia and has since been named an associate concertmaster. The time had come. The following year, the two other boys packed up their fiddles and joined the Philadelphia—Joseph as principal violist, Robert as a member of the violin section—and the de Pasquale String Quartet was born.

This season the quartet’s eleven concerts in Philadelphia drew near-sellout crowds. Following their success in Manhattan last week, the de Pasquale brothers had only one regret. Said Joseph: “If only Dad could have heard us. He would have popped his buttons.”

4 Replies to “a family affair”

  1. I also grew up with Joe’s kids: they still spent their summers at Tanglewood, and we went to the same summer camp. Of course we went to that camp because Joe’s kids went there! A nice Italian day camp in Pittsfield, MA.

  2. Wow – I never connected the dots and figured that you were Burton’s daughter! I had a great experience working with him at Tanglewood. Very elegant player, and had lots of incredible fingering ideas for tricky excerpts like Daphnis. His recording of Don Quixote (w/ Yo-yo) was the first I heard. I also cannot imagine a more different pair of guys than Burton and Joe!

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