Abe Torchinsky, 89, a tuba player whose deep, dark sound girded ensembles led by Toscanini and Ormandy, whose musicianship matched that of Glenn Gould and others in landmark recordings, and who was a pedagogue of considerable legacy, has died.
Mr. Torchinsky died in his sleep at home in Plymouth Meeting Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, his daughter Beth Torchin said.
Born in South Philadelphia, "Torchy" grew up in Kensington, the son of emigres from Kiev. He first encountered the tuba as a member of a Boy Scout band. After taking lessons at the Curtis Institute of Music with (then-student) Arnold Jacobs, he enrolled and entered the studio of Philip Donatelli, the Philadelphia Orchestra's tuba player.
He graduated from Curtis (with Leonard Bernstein) in 1941, played with the National Symphony Orchestra, then moved to New York to study with William J. Bell. There, he played in pits for the original productions of Billy Rose's Seven Lively Arts and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel and Allegro.
But it was in the orchestral realm that he made his mark. After playing with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini from 1946 to 1949, he was hired by Eugene Ormandy to follow teacher Donatelli in the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Mr. Torchinsky was the ensemble's tubaist from 1949 to 1972, an era of tremendous recording activity and a time when the orchestra's brass section was perhaps the most admired in the world. A Philadelphia Brass Ensemble album, The Glorious Sound of Brass, won a Grammy in 1967. Another, of antiphonal music of Gabrieli with Chicago and Cleveland brass players, won in 1969.
Principals from the orchestra teamed with pianist Gould on an album of Hindemith brass sonatas that became an ongoing master class of that repertoire for generations of brass players.
"I'll pull them out for students now," tuba player Warren Deck, a Torchinsky student who played with the New York Philharmonic for more than two decades, said of Mr. Torchinsky's records. "They're always in awe when they hear those guys play."
It was through a recording that Deck decided to seek out his teacher.
"He was just a beautiful player," he said. "It wasn't the biggest sound, especially by today's standard, but it was darker and had more depth to it than just about anything else out there. He could settle an ensemble with the weight of his sound."
Deck - who studied with Mr. Torchinsky at the University of Michigan, where he taught from 1972 until 1989 - says he believes that playing together as an ensemble outside the orchestra was directly responsible for the powerful but blended sound of the orchestra's brass.
"I think ideas are formed in those situations and those ideas found their way into the orchestra," he said. "And, of course, when other people fall into line with the principals, that's when that kind of homogeneous sound comes along."
One recording caught the ire of the boss. Catch the Brass Ring was an album of jazz and popular standards. It was billed as by the "Torchy Jones Quintet," but it was really the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, and - at least as the story is told - when Ormandy found out the group had recorded popular repertoire, he demanded that Columbia Records pull it.
Mr. Torchinsky was less a player and more a talker in lessons, according to New York Philharmonic principal librarian Lawrence Tarlow, who studied with him at Curtis. "You'd play the slow-movement solo in Mahler 1, and he'd say, 'Great. Ormandy likes it like this, Muti likes it like this, Giulini likes it like this.' So you'd get this broad range of interpretive possibilities."
Mr. Torchinsky gave these observations permanence in a series of books that included not just the traditional few measures of prominent orchestra solos found in most excerpt books, but entire instrumental parts annotated with commentary. He eventually authored 17 volumes of Tuba Player's Orchestral Repertoire, Tarlow said.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Torchinsky is survived by daughters Barbara Volger and Ann Penny Clark; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Berta, died in 2005.
A celebration of his life is set for 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Doubletree in Plymouth Meeting. Contributions in his memory can be made to the University of Pennsylvania's macular degenerative disease program at the Scheie Eye Institute, 51 N. 39th St., Philadelphia 19104 or to the American Heart Association, 5455 N. High St., Columbus, Ohio 43214.