If the violins across the city sound especially melancholy this month, it may be because they're mourning the loss of a longtime master of the fiddle – perhaps the longest Austin's known. Robert Rudié passed away Sunday, March 4, three weeks after turning 93, and he'd spent 86 of those years working a bow. What with his concert debut at age 10, this son of a pianist mother and cellist father – émigrés from France – logged more than fourscore years as a violinist in concert halls, theatres, and salons. That alone would be cause to honor Rudié, but he did so much more worth remembering: as an educator, as a conductor, as an actor, as an advocate for chamber music in homes and schools.
He first arrived in Austin in 1981 as a visiting professor of violin at the University of Texas. By then, Rudié had packed a lot into his life: graduating with honors from Juilliard; playing violin with the NBC Symphony Orchestra; performing at the Casals Festivals in Europe and Puerto Rico; touring extensively across North America with his own ensemble, the Rudié Sinfonietta; directing the music program at Riverdale Country School; playing with the Riverdale String Quartet; serving as concertmaster for numerous orchestras, including the New York City Ballet, American Symphony Orchestra, and the Aspen Festival; teaching at the Harlem School of the Arts, Music Conservatory of Westchester, and Vassar College; and creating a solo stage show about Nicolò Paganini, which led to him portray the legendary violin virtuoso in two episodes of Steve Allen's Emmy Award-winning PBS series, Meeting of Minds.
Rudié stayed at UT just two years, but he made Austin his home after meeting pianist and composer Kathryn Mishell here, and he stayed as busy here as he had everywhere else. He spent 10 years as assistant concertmaster of the Austin Symphony Orchestra; launched the city's first series of professional chamber music concerts in private homes; founded Salon Concerts to further that activity; founded Chamber Music in Public Schools, or CHAMPS, to provide free in-school coaching for students playing chamber music; and renewed his boyhood love of acting, playing everyone from Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore to Polonius to Scrooge on stages all across town, while also mounting several runs of Paganini! and his other solo show, Heroes & Lovers. He was well into his 10th decade before he stopped performing, teaching, and spreading his gospel of chamber music to students.
The day Rudié passed, a concert featuring jazz and blues musician Chris Brubeck was held to benefit CHAMPS – a sad coincidence and yet also a symbolic fulfillment of Rudié's desire for the program to outlast him. In line with that wish, the family requests that gifts in Robert Rudié's memory be made to CHAMPS through Salon Concerts Inc., P.O. Box 163501, Austin, TX, 78716, or at www.salonconcerts.org. A memorial celebration will be held Thursday, April 5, 8pm, in the community hall of the Dell Jewish Community Center, 7300 Hart.