Marcel Farago, 92, a Philadelphia Orchestra cellist from 1955 to 1994, died Friday, April 8, in Cherry Hill. Born in Romania, he was also a composer of numerous works, several of which were performed by the orchestra.
Mr. Farago reportedly suffered from cancer but chose not to discuss it, and gave an interview packed with keen observations and lively wit only weeks before his death. He proudly stated that he was born in Timisoara, near the birthplace of the great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. "So Bartok and I have something in common," he said with a laugh.
Not that his life had any absence of legends. Educated at the Royal Academy of Music in Bucharest, he was also a student of three of the 20th century's great cellists: Gaspar Cassado in Siena, Italy, and Pierre Fournier and Paul Tortelier at the Paris Conservatory. However, he barely survived his early adulthood in Europe. His Jewish heritage made him a marked man during World War II, and he lived in hiding in Budapest, sheltered by his future wife, Adele, whom he married in 1950.
By the time Mr. Farago was hired by Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia in 1955, he was also a good pianist and conductor, and spoke numerous languages, having worked not just in postwar Budapest, but also with the Municipal Orchestra of Cape Town, South Africa, and the Symphony Orchestra of Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Having survived so much, Mr. Farago and his wife were remembered by orchestra violinist Davyd Booth as being formidable behind their congeniality. The pair were walking arm-in-arm during an orchestra tour stop in Italy when a passing motorcyclist attempted to snatch her purse. Adele Farago was thrown to the ground and moderately injured - but still had her purse.
After her 1988 death, Mr. Farago composed an orchestral work in her honor, titled In Memoriam, that was performed by the orchestra under Riccardo Muti. He recalled that Muti was under no obligation to conduct the premiere, but did so having read through the finished piece. It included a quotation from an earlier work that his wife loved. "We had 42 years together," Mr. Farago said.
Other of Mr. Farago's pieces were performed at children's concerts that he sometimes conducted himself, having been told by Ormandy, "You wrote it, you conduct it." Booth worked with Mr. Farago on a demo recording of his Cello Concerto to send to recording companies, and described the work as modern in the fashion of Ralph Vaughan Williams. "But there was a sly wit involved, with maybe a bit of Poulenc," Booth said. "It was a major piece of music." Apparently, the piece never received a commercial recording.
Still, his String Trio inaugurated the orchestra's chamber music series in 1985 and his Double Concerto for two violins and orchestra (Op. 58) was performed by the Delaware County Symphony under Roman Pawlowski in the 1988-89 season.
His second wife, Lily, also preceded him in death.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, in the Community Room at the Uxbridge Club House, off Haddonfield-Berlin Road in Cherry Hill.