We are all human (inconsistent intonation)

Anne Midgette gives cellist Efe Baltacigil’s recent Weill Hall recital a mixed review today.

Efe Baltacigil, a young Turkish cellist, is a personable performer. On Friday night he came onto the stage at Weill Recital Hall with a dark, mottled cello, an agreeable manner and an accompanist named Anna Polonsky, then settled into Bach’s Sonata in G (BWV 1027) like an adept conversationalist — all ears, visibly responding to what the music was telling him.

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.

What a great description of a cello sound: “warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch.”

She obviously loved his music making in the Bach G Major and the Franck A Major sonatas except for one issue: some intonation problems. “Mr. Baltacigil’s uppermost notes weren’t quite right, and the final movement of the Bach sonata kept drifting slightly flat,” she noted about the Bach. And in the Franck, “Mr. Baltacigil appeared to reach the pinnacle of his expressivity. Yet again the tang of faintly sour notes wafted from the emotive phrases. The music finished with excitement but out of tune.”

I have great empathy for Efe. To have reached his increasingly prominent position in the cello world, he obviously can play in tune in the high registers of the cello. You don’t get into the Philadelphia Orchestra, in any seat, otherwise.

So what happened? Nerves make the hands too tight? Not quite enough practice? Overwhelmed by the rest of his schedule? Tired? Or just really going for the creative, expressive aspects and some of the intonation getting a bit off?

I can play dead in tune, and often do. But any of the above can result in some intonational lapses in my own playing, especially in thumb position (the high registers) with pieces new to me, or if I’m so busy with other things (that full-time college professor job and the three teenagers can make life overwhelming) that I don’t have enough time or energy to practice as much as I’d like. Good intonation was the most difficult thing for me to achieve in my cello playing, and it is the first thing to start to slip if I don’t practice regularly.

I’ve heard plenty of well-known cellists play out of tune, so Efe and I are in good company–as are all the other fallible human beings playing the cello (and other instruments).

And one thing’s for sure–I’d rather hear a fully-alive, creative performance with some occasional intonation mishaps than a dull, safe one that is note-perfect.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “We are all human (inconsistent intonation)

  1. Anne-Lise

    This post is just what I needed to read since I’m terribly nervous about playing Bach in front of a crowd next Saturday with only a week notice and never having played it before with an audience present (I’m only an amateur).

  2. Maestro

    It was a magical performance and was glad I made it.
    We’re lucky to have Efe in the Philly orchestra.

    We all have our days, good and bad…this concert was certainly enjoyable and moving.

  3. Eric Edberg

    Great to hear from you, maestro. I’ve heard so many great things about Efe and I’m looking forward to hearing him play in person.

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