Composer Eugene Phillips' sons to debut his work memorializing friends
Specialization can be useful, even essential in many professions.
Musician Eugene Phillips is one of those people who takes a contrary view.
"I think it's important to widen your perspectives," he says.
That's how he's lived his life. He's been playing the fiddle and composing music in Pittsburgh for more than 80 years, and he taught for more than half of that time. His sons -- Daniel and Todd -- are internationally renowned musicians as the violinists of the Orion String Quartet.
Now 90, Phillips' most recent concert performance was by his own string quartet in July. The world premiere of his newly composed string quintet will be featured Monday at the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society. The Orion String Quartet opens the season at Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland.
The program consists of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Quartet in G major, K. 387, the first of six he dedicated to his friend and fellow composer Joseph Haydn; Phillips' "A Tribute for Two"; and Antonin Dvorak's String Quintet in G major, Op. 77.
Timothy Cobb, principal bass of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City since 1986, will play the Phillips and Dvorak.
Phillips began writing his string quintet, he says, while thinking of Irving Faigen, his good friend, brother-in-law, and a music enthusiast who was one of the founders of Pittsburgh Concert Society.
"He died a couple of years ago, and I've been wanting to write something," he says, "not a requiem or anything like that, more a memory piece or a tribute."
While he was working on the slow movement, another friend, Robert Holloway, died suddenly and the new composition became a dual tribute.
The slow movement is at a moderate tempo, an Andante, and is "reminiscent of both of these guys. Their personalities are not mixed, they come one after the other. It's not a tone poem. You might call it a threnody, with some very tender spots which each of these guys had. It ends 'dolce lamentoso,' a little bit of moaning but it's a nice moaning," says the composer.
The finale recalls the departed as they lived. Phillips says Faigen and Holloway both had very dry humor that could be spiky.
"At the end, the music doesn't mellow out but broadens to a big union on (the note) B. Five octaves by God! I did it."
Phillips began learning music from his father, who came to Pittsburgh from Poland. Although the family moved a lot, Phillips grew up in Dormont.
At age 9, Phillips began playing in his father's Polish dance bands. And as his father wrote some mazurkas, he decided to write some, too.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Phillips went to Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) on the GI Bill, studying composition with Nikolai Lopatnikov and violin with Hugo Kolberg, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Phillips joined the Pittsburgh Symphony as a violist in 1947, and also played in the first violin section. Although he left the orchestra for a dozen years to teach, he continued as a substitute violinist and violist. Ultimately, he tired of the 50 students a week, reduced his teaching load and rejoined the ensemble, finally retiring from it in 1988. He and his wife have been among Pittsburgh's leading music teachers for many decades.
It was at Carnegie Mellon that Phillips met many life-long friends, including composer Lester Trimble, as well as his wife. If there was new music to play, Phillips was the go-to guy. For one piece, he needed a particularly good pianist and chose Natalie.
"Natalie was the best pianist around," he says. "We're still playing together 57 years later."Additional Information:
'Orion String Quartet'
Presented by: Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Admission: $35; $15 for students
Where: Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Chryst a miserable failure at Pitt
- Pouliot scores in NHL debut as Penguins tame Panthers
- Ex-Penguins defenseman Niskanen still miffed by coaches’ firings
- Pitt players support Rudolph for job
- Pitt football fights to overcome steppingstone status
- Steelers’ Bell, Chiefs’ Charles elevating running back position in NFL
- Pair of NYC officers killed in ambush shooting
- Jeannette company’s miniature steam engines coveted for decades
- Real estate union: Howard Hanna buys Langholz Wilson Ellis
- Steelers notebook: Bell says he’s prepared to test Chiefs defense
- Westmoreland County furloughs weights and measurements director