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Archive for Sunday, August 10, 2003

Adored flutist Julius Baker dies at 87

August 10, 2003

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Julius Baker, 87, the elegant, silver-haired flutist who trained many of the world's top flute players, died Wednesday in Danbury, Conn., after an apparent heart attack.

As a performer, Mr. Baker spent his early career moving quickly among the top ranks of American orchestras, joining the Cleveland Orchestra in 1937, leading the Pittsburgh Symphony flute section from 1941-43, the CBS Symphony from 1943-51 and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1951-53.

But he made his biggest impression as principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic, a chair he occupied from 1965-83.

"For me, his playing was a marriage of perfection and beauty," said Jeanne Baxtresser, who studied with Baker at the Juilliard School of Music starting in 1965 and became the Philharmonic's principal flutist in 1984.

Baker was enormously influential on several generations of flutists. He taught at Juilliard for nearly a half century, from 1954 until last May, and at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1980 until this year.

Among his students were soloists Paula Robison and Gary Schocker, Philadelphia Orchestra principal Jeffrey Khaner and Cleveland Orchestra principal Joshua Smith.

Born in Cleveland, Baker studied at the Eastman School of Music and then came to Philadelphia to the Curtis Institute.

Baxstresser said the Juilliard students spied every element of his manner in an effort to emulate his sound.

"To have heard his recordings, as all of his students had, was to be mesmerized and enchanted, and to get to the source of this magic, we tried to do all the things he was doing -- the way he held his head, the angle of his flute. This was not a man who made you feel small; he was accessible and generous, a gentle kind of teacher. His magnificence with the flute was something that he made available to us, but he also charted a course in which he said, 'You have to find your own path."'

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