Emilio Anthony Gravagno, 82, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra's double-bass section for more than four decades, died Saturday at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania after a long struggle with lymphoma.
Mr. Gravagno, who lived in Wayne, retired from the orchestra in 2009, but remained active in musical circles in recent years - sometimes as a patron. With his wife, philanthropist Carole Haas Gravagno, he recognized his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music, with a gift of special significance by underwriting a space when Curtis' Lenfest Hall addition opened: the Carole H. and Emilio A. Gravagno Double Bass Studio, a roomy new hub for studying the jumbo string instrument.
He recently donated his own longtime double bass - an unusually large, Italian, 19th-century instrument once owned by important pedagogue Anton Torello - to Curtis, where it is now being played by a student.
Last Friday, the day before his death, he was serenaded in his hospital room by mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis and guitarist Allen Krantz, and on guitar by one of his sons. The composer Hannibal Lokumbe visited to read and sing a bit from a forthcoming work, Crucifixion and Resurrection, that the couple has commissioned in reaction to the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. "Hannibal noticed he was getting tired and started to go," said Haas Gravagno, "and Emilio said, 'Wait a minute, I want to hear the rest of it.'" And he did.
Born in Chicago, Mr. Gravagno took up the double bass in high school. He attended Southeastern Louisiana College and DePaul University before entering Curtis in 1954, where he studied with Roger Scott. After his Curtis graduation in 1958, he played in the New Orleans Symphony and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, joining the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1967.