At the conclusion of Phillip Ruder's final concert with the Reno Chamber Orchestra April 15, dozens of friends and fans threw red and white roses onto the Nightingale Concert Hall stage in the University's Church Fine Arts building.
"It was a complete surprise," said Ruder. "I felt something hit me. My first thought was the ceiling was falling down. It took a couple seconds to see what was happening around me."
Ruder, always the gentleman, picked up several of the roses and handed them to other violinists in the orchestra.
"Phillip Ruder is one of the most important American violinists of the last 40 years," said Reno Chamber Orchestra (RCO) Executive Director Scott Faulkner, when asked to sum up the career and impact of the University associate professor of music who will retire at the end of the spring semester.
"When he came out to Nevada, it ratcheted up the focus on the arts on campus and the caliber of music in the community," said Larry Engstrom, director of the University's School of the Arts. "(Phillip) serves as concertmaster for both the Reno Philharmonic (Orchestra) and the RCO. His experience raised the bar for both of those organizations."
At the University, Ruder created and continues to coordinate the School of the Arts' Orchestral Career Studies Program, which trains some of the country's most promising students in the art of orchestral performance. University of Nevada, Reno is the only university in the western United States that offers this course of graduate study.
"It has been very, very good for the music department, and it has meant a great deal to me," Ruder said of the program. "It has brought very good graduate students to the University. These individuals from all over the world have gotten involved with musical life in Reno – through the RCO, the Reno Phil, and playing in churches. This has added immeasurably to the quality of music in the community. What happens at UNR radiates throughout the community."
Faulkner concurs: "His contribution to Reno—the University, the Reno Chamber Orchestra and the Reno Philharmonic—has been inestimable. Although in many ways his shoes will be impossible to fill, he has laid a foundation that will allow his successor to thrive and succeed. He has moved music forward immeasurably in Reno and the impact of his time here will be felt for years after he plays his final note."
Ruder is retiring from the University at the end of this semester and retiring as a professional violinist this summer. He has been concertmaster and soloist for the Sunriver Music Festival since 1981, and he plans to play in this summer's festival in Oregon. It may well be his final public performance.
"My sense of pride is high," he said. "To keep at your best you need to be doing it at a professional level every day including teaching. Once you stop you lose some of your physical resilience. I wouldn't want to play unless I was playing at my very best. I might play for sentimental reasons in my home or private settings."
What will he miss most about teaching at the University? "Dealing with wonderful young people," he said. "You can see the future lying ahead of them. They are challenging, interesting, and mentally curious. They are energetic and optimistic. I've enjoyed these youthful qualities that they transfer to me."
Ruder is well known to his Reno area fans as a member of Argenta, the world-class ensemble featuring critically acclaimed University musicians. Most Argenta performances feature a trio of performers, usually Ruder along with cellist John Lenz and pianist James Winn. As the Argenta Trio, Ruder, Lenz and Winn toured and performed throughout Taiwan in 2006, and they have performed in numerous chamber music festivals. Ruder's final performance with Argenta was April 5, but he anticipates Argenta will carry on with the violinist that fills his faculty member position.
Ruder debuted as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 12. Over his career, he has performed with many of the world's major conductors and soloists including Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Sir John Barbirolli, Yefim Bronfman, John Browning, Sarah Chang, Heinz Holliger, Ida Kavafian, Erich Kunzel, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Richard Stoltzman. He has performed on more than 100 recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops, and he performed as a soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony 25 times. In addition to serving as concertmaster for the RCO and Reno Philharmonic, Ruder was previously concertmaster for the Aspen Music Festival, Santa Fe Opera, Dallas Symphony Orchestra and New Orleans Philharmonic.
Ruder received bachelor and master's degrees in music from Hartt College of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. In 2004, Ruder was the recipient of the Nevada Governor's Arts Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Engstrom was a member of the search committee that selected Ruder in 1994. He remembers the committee's surprise and delight when they reviewed the application and resume of the concertmaster of the highly respected Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
"Best of all, he's a great guy and a positive influence for faculty and students," says Engstrom. "He has been a seminal figure in creating a better quality of student and learning experience within the School of the Arts."
A recording of the April 15 RCO concert, which featured Ruder as concertmaster and soloist, is scheduled to be featured on KUNR-FM 88.7 on Thursday, April 26 in the 9 a.m. hour.