William de Pasquale, 78, first violinist

William de Pasquale

William de Pasquale, 78, whose regal visage held a magnetic, four-decade presence at the front of the Philadelphia Orchestra's first violin section and who was a member of a remarkable family of string players, died Sunday at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital of complications relating to prostate cancer.

Though Mr. de Pasquale slipped into various titles with the orchestra - associate concertmaster, acting concertmaster, second concertmaster, and co-concertmaster - the job for him always amounted to being Mr. Dependable.

He made easy work of tricky, exposed solos in Scheherazade and Strauss' Four Last Songs. He played chamber music with Yo-Yo Ma, and brought his "compellingly ardent temperament" to the Walton Violin Concerto. As the orchestra's ambassador on tour, he led master classes with a gentle air of authority while playing examples on his modern Italian instrument. And sitting first desk, he was the person to whom Elmar Oliveira turned when the soloist, breaking a string mid-concerto, needed both a temporary fiddle and someone to restring his, lickety-split. Mr. de Pasquale repeated the service a few years later for another string-busting violinist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

But he was a good deal more than merely a sturdy attendant to others. He was a frequent soloist himself, standing in front of the ensemble in Bartók's Second Violin Concerto, the Chausson Poème, Elgar's Violin Concerto in B Minor, the Korngold Concerto, and The Four Seasons of Vivaldi.

Of a 1983 performance with the orchestra of Bruch's lugubrious In Memoriam, an Inquirer critic wondered whether any player could bring the work to life, and then answered: "De Pasquale played it with considerable fervor and dedication and a throbbing, dark tone."

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. de Pasquale first studied violin at 7 with his father at home in Germantown, and left for the U.S. Navy Band after training at the Curtis Institute of Music with revered pedagogue Veda Reynolds. He performed at the Berkshire Music Center and Marlboro Festival, and went on to Salzburg on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1958 for a year of study and concertizing. Stateside, he landed the concertmaster job in the New Orleans Philharmonic.

His return to Philadelphia in 1963 represented a merger of his professional and personal lives - a consolidation that continued for several decades. He and then-wife Barbara Sorlien, also a violinist, may have been the first husband and wife to arrive in the orchestra together. He found his second wife, violinist Julia Janson, in the orchestra. His third wife and widow, Gloria, is a member of the orchestra's cello section.

Mr. de Pasquale's retirement also signaled the end of (or perhaps just a pause in) a dynastic presence that guaranteed personal and professional interplay in the orchestra for a half-century.

On some nights, he and brother Joseph, the orchestra's longtime principal violist, could be heard playing the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante or Arthur Benjamin's Romantic Fantasy together. Their brother Robert was a first-stand second violinist. Another brother, Francis, was an orchestra cellist. The brothers and others, in various combinations over the years, formed the de Pasquale String Quartet.

Gloria and William's daughter, Francesca de Pasquale, is a young violinist with a budding career.

Even if Mr. de Pasquale's titles with the orchestra never included concertmaster, he often performed the duties of one, notably after Norman Carol retired in 1994 but before the orchestra had settled on a successor. Whatever else he felt as a short list of candidates came through, Mr. de Pasquale would say publicly only that he hoped the choice would be for the good of the orchestra.

"I've gone through the gamut of emotional highs and lows during this temporary period," he said. "There have been many concerts where emergencies meant calling on me to play the orchestral solos without rehearsals. I just love to play music, and as the downbeat comes, we all forget about who, what, where, and just concentrate on making music."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. de Pasquale is survived by brothers Joseph, Robert, and John; sister Eleanor DeGrandis; stepsons Benjamin Francis Johns and Zachary Mills Johns; and granddaughter Annabelle.

Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the Bringhurst Funeral Home, 225 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd. The funeral will be at 10 a.m., Friday, April 13, at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 230 Pennswood Rd., Bryn Mawr.

 Donations may be made to the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Box 41810, Philadelphia 19101-1810.


Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/artswatch.