Remembering Paul Phillips

Paul Phillips in 2010

Todd Rosenberg Photography

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Paul Phillips, who served as a member of the violin section from 1980 until 2020. He died on March 27, 2024, following a long illness, at home in Chicago. Phillips was 77.

Born in Canton, Ohio, Paul Phillips began violin studies at the age of four. His father had played the violin as a youth and, when cleaning out a closet one day, he showed his son his old instrument and said, “Do you want to play the violin?” Paul innocently answered, “Yes!” — and so he did. One of Phillips’ first teachers was William Taylor (father of David Taylor, CSO assistant concertmaster) and he later attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying violin and chamber music with William Kroll of the Kroll Quartet and Endre Granat, assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. He also received advanced coaching from Donald Weilerstein, first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet.

To earn his way through conservatory training, Phillips worked at a “fancy French restaurant,” where he developed a taste for fine cuisine, later preparing it for countless guests in his home and appreciating it in restaurants around the world.

In 1968, at the invitation of music director Izler Solomon, Phillips became a member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, also regularly performing as a member of the Indianapolis String Quartet. Four years later in 1972, he joined the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, serving under music directors Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato and Antal Doráti.

In 1980, eighth music director Sir Georg Solti invited Phillips to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He served in the first violin section for 40 years, retiring in June 2020. An avid chamber musician, Phillips performed regularly with flutist Donald Peck and pianist Melody Lord, as well as with the Gold Coast Chamber Players, Chicago Nine Ensemble, Ensemble à Corde, Chicago Pro Musica and the Chicago Symphony String Quartet, along with Music of the Baroque. For many years, Phillips performed on a 1760 Joseph Gagliano violin.

Phillips was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, serving most recently as the organization’s president.

“The CSO has always been the premier orchestra for me in the United States,” remarked Phillips at the time of his retirement in 2020. "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,” wrote Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s music director emeritus for life. “An exemplary artist and gentleman. I will never forget him.”

Paul Phillips is survived by his beloved husband Lloyd Palmiter, a sister Sheila Ghezzi and a nephew. Details for services are pending.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, here.

This article also appears here.