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Violinist Paul Phillips has Died, Aged 77

Phillips played in the first violin section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 40 years


Paul Phillips served as a member of the violin section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) from 1980 until his retirement in June 2020. He passed away in Chicago following a long illness.

Born in Canton, Ohio, Phillips began learning the violin at age four, after encountering his father’s old violin. One of Phillips’ first teachers was William Taylor — the father of CSO’s assistant concertmaster, David Taylor.

He later attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying violin and chamber music with William Kroll, Donald Weilerstein, and Cleveland Orchestra’s former assistant concertmaster, Endre Granat.

In 1968, Phillips was invited to perform as a member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and regularly played as part of the Indianapolis String Quartet.

In 1972, he joined the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and in 1980, music director Sir Georg Solti invited him to play with the CSO in the first violin section.

As a chamber musician, Phillips’ collaborators included flutist Donald Peck and pianist Melody Lord, plus the Gold Coast Chamber Players, Chicago Nine Ensemble, Ensemble à Corde, Chicago Pro Musica, Music of the Baroque, and the CSO String Quartet, where he played second violin. 

He was also a longtime member of the CSO Alumni Association, where he served as president. In recognition of his outstanding service to the CSO, he was recognized with the orchestra’s Theodore Thomas Medallion for Distinguished Service in 2022.  

Phillips performed on a 1760 Joseph Gagliano violin.

“The CSO has always been the premier orchestra for me in the United States,” Phillips said during his retirement in 2020, the CSO wrote in a tribute. “One of my best friends in school was from Chicago, so we used to come to hear the Orchestra. We would sit there and look at each other and say, ‘oh my, I'll never be in this orchestra!’... As good as it was when I joined in 1980, at this point under Riccardo Muti, I think it’s the best it’s ever sounded … it’s continued to develop and evolve into this now elegant playing orchestra with such a beautiful sound.”

“I am profoundly saddened. I have lost a dear friend, a wonderful colleague, a marvelous person,” added CSO’s music director emeritus for life, Riccardo Muti. “An exemplary artist and gentleman. I will never forget him.”

Mr. Phillips is survived by his husband Lloyd Palmiter, a sister, and a nephew. Our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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