A Tribute to Barry Socher

October 25, 2016, 7:02 PM · In most fairy tales, the good guy wins. How many stories have we known about princesses and monsters, in which the bad guy gets captured or slaughtered, and the good guy lives happily ever after?

Well, spoiler alert: in Barry Socher’s beloved "The Monster and the Maiden" for string quartet and narrator, the Monster is the one who lives happily ever after.

There was also Pachelbel’s "Cannonball", where the first violinist of a string quartet - usually Barry - would genteelly announce to an audience that they would now be indulged in an encore of Pachelbel’s overplayed Canon in D, much to the chagrin of the quartet’s cellist (who just mindlessly repeats the bassline for the entirety of Pachelbel’s original Canon while the other instruments get the tune). The cellist would begin grumbling, and then eventually explode at Barry during the announcement (cheekily underlining the possible tensions that might exist within a professional string quartet).

Audiences wouldn’t know what to make of the fiasco, but once the quartet starting playing, the cellist would begin to derail Pachelbel’s "Canon" with successively disruptive variations starting with weird accents or obviously wrong notes. After getting some confidence and playing to the crowd, they’d then unabashedly throw in some "Hey Jude", and ultimately end with gloriously dissonant, disruptive passages worthy of Charles Ives. The crowd would be roaring at the end. The members of the quartet might be shaking with silent tears of laughter. I usually was.

Barry kept the straightest face throughout it all, throwing dirty looks at the cellist the whole time - in the case of the time I played it with him, the LA Phil’s Associate Principal Cellist, Daniel Rothmuller, a colleague of Barry’s for nearly 4 decades.

Of course, Barry planned it all.

On Saturday evening, the LA Phil walked off the stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall after a performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, and somehow, I wasn’t surprised to hear that Barry had passed away at 8:40pm. Barry, who was 68, had been valiantly battling cancer for a few years and had recently made the shift to hospice care. Gustavo dedicated the Sunday matinee performance to Barry’s memory. I can’t imagine a better tribute to him than that symphony: for Barry, playing Mahler was a spiritual experience.

Barry Socher
Barry onstage at Disney Hall. Credit: LA Phil, Mahler Project blog

Barry represented what it meant to love music, every minute of every day. He played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 35 years; at the same time, he was a true "amateur" - and I mean that in the most respectful and literal sense of the word - a lover. For him, clinical perfection, cleanliness - was rote and stupid. Musical decisions were moral decisions: if you showed up without a knowledge of what was going in the score of a Brahms quartet or Mahler symphony, he’d point it out to you without hesitation. He was an educator by knowledge and example.

He approached music with deep, spiritual conviction. Every single note was holy.

***

For Barry, music was a way to bring people together and celebrate the joyful, the painful, and the totally bizarre. He held an annual “Dilloween” on Halloween, dressing up with sincerity as deep as his musicality in outrageous costumes. His partner of many years, Jutta Thorne, would put out an amazing spread, generously welcoming people into their exuberantly cluttered home in Beverly Glen.

The beloved Armadillo String Quartet, consisting of Barry, violinist Steve Scharf, violist Ray Tischer and cellist Armen Ksajikian, would play from Barry’s greatest hits - the "Audition Blues" (consisting of standard violin excerpts played by a quartet with the first violinist singing about how much auditions suck), a devious arrangement of the Cantina music from John Williams’ Star Wars, compositions of "Wolfgang Amadeus Schwartz" (one of Barry’s alter egos), or even a somber, poignant arrangement of Kurt Weill’s "Youkali" tango (which was later part of the soundtrack of a Pedro Almodovar film, "Kika").

Dilloween
Barry and Jutta at Dilloween. Credit: Beth Cook-Shen, Facebook

Music was a celebration to Barry, and at Dilloween, you’d either hear a reverent, hushed silences at the end of a poignant piece, or everyone would be roaring with equally reverent laughter.

Exactly one week before he died, a few of us were able to live out a similar experience in Barry’s home, in Barry’s presence. LA Phil violinists Camille Avellano and Mitchell Newman, violist Leticia Strong, cellist Barry Gold and I joined Barry’s wife Jutta, a few of their dear friends, and our colleague Danny Rothmuller. We read through a miniscule section of Barry’s magnificent library of his own music, ourselves roaring with laughter, singing badly, trying our best to do justice by Barry. We brought some Schubert and Mozart to read just in case - but we didn’t need the great masters that day. Barry was enough.

Before we ended our visit at Barry’s home, I went up to Barry. His head was turned away. I touched his shoulder, and although he didn’t speak, he did his customary exaggerated ‘double take’ when he turned towards me, and gave me a wry smile. His sense of humor was still intact.

I said goodbye. He had the most beautiful eyes.

***
Barry’s humor wasn’t just about jokes. Underlying the insistent groan-inducing puns was a very, very deep soul. He was incredibly well read. I remember attending my first Dilloween and he told me he was on his third reading of Douglas Hofstader’s massive tome, "Gödel, Escher, Bach".

When we visited his home the last time we saw him, my heart melted to see all 7 Harry Potter books lined up prominently on the shelves, right next to "Why Classical Music Still Matters" and "A Course in Miracles".

He was a voracious reader and studier of scores and all music. Many of his pieces - serious or otherwise - are absolutely brilliant studies of counterpoint, harmony and rhythm. He would often stay up all night composing. I will hope to play his pieces with my colleagues for the rest of my life.

Barry was a devout educator, composer, arranger, chamber musician, concertmaster, and conductor. He was a dear friend and collaborator of Peter Schickele, the hilarious musical prankster known as PDQ Bach. He even took the Armadillos and the music of PDQ Bach to Carnegie Hall and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Reading the loving comments on his Facebook page after the news of his passing - he had friends who knew and loved him for decades. He championed new music and Jesus Christ Superstar in the same breath. He lead a 34 hour long marathon of the complete quartets of Joseph Haydn in 1984. He also led several river-rafting trips with dear friends and colleagues - on the Rouge in Oregon, Utah’s Green river, and the Dolores River in Colorado - and even at the Grand Canyon - where you’d get out of the water, shivering and soaking wet - and, of course - read string quartets in the canyon.

Barry and friends
Barry Socher, Mitchell Newman, Daniel Rothmuller, and Leticia Strong. Credit: Joanne Pearce Martin, Facebook.

There was no “professional Barry” - I get the sense that to him, everything was personal. His friends mattered as much as the music did.

After a 35 year long career in the LA Phil, he knew orchestral scores inside out and backwards. During Philharmonic rehearsals of a Beethoven symphony he must have played hundreds of times, he’d point out just how lovely a certain clarinet passage was - just how perfectly the harmony worked with the counterpoint - how I should play a little quieter there, because the violas had something important one could enjoy - how if you tweaked the way you looked at a rhythm just enough, you could play the entire movement in a different meter. He took wonder, creativity and musical geekdom to the highest level. I absolutely adored him.

He was kind to everyone, but held them to a high standard, because the music demanded the highest standard of us. He was deeply kind to substitute musicians. I learned many good lessons from him - not just how to be a good musician, but how to be a good person who lived through the way great music could bring us together.

me and Barry
Barry and I at a chamber music reading party in Santa Monica, CA, 2008.

I remember a story about his piece "FinTango", a tango mashup of themes from Sibelius following the form of Sibelius’s "Finlandia". The LA Phil performed this piece at the Hollywood Bowl at Barry’s last service with the orchestra, but as I understand it, "FinTango" was premiered as a string quartet when the orchestra was still at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen. In fact, the premiere took place after a Philharmonic concert, when Barry led a string quartet of Phil members to set up outside the music director’s dressing room and play "FinTango" until a bemused (and probably utterly nonplussed) Esa-Pekka came out to see what the hell was happening.

Exactly. Dude had "cojones". I believe he handed Esa-Pekka the score when they finished.

***
I joined the LA Phil when I was 19, in 2007. The first image seared into my memory of Barry onstage at the Hollywood Bowl was that of a guy who looked like Brahms - very serious - but with a stuffed, plush armadillo peeking out from under his seat. A colleague told me that he was part of a well-respected and prominent string quartet with a certain peculiar mascot. He never treated me like an inexperienced kid, even though that’s what I was. His welcome was warm, challenging and genuine.

Barry was the first colleague to ever invite me to play a chamber music event with him at Walt Disney Concert Hall on the Philharmonic’s series. I played 2nd violin to him in a quartet by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who also passed away earlier this year. At rehearsal the day after the performance, Barry handed me a piece of his called "Violin, Too", for ‘2nd Violin and Piano’, and he inscribed it to me:

'To Robert -
Once, after playing a quartet concert as 1st Violinist of my Armadillo String Quartet, I received the compliment that I must be a good 2nd Violinist. Last night, the 2nd Violinists were the inspiration for the evening. Here's to many years of making music together.
With friendship and admiration, Barry'.

Violin, too
Violin, too. Vijay Gupta, Instagram

I was lucky enough to play with him for a few more great years.

***

Barry and Jutta
Barry and Jutta. Credit: Rebecca Dru, Flickr.

One can’t write or even think about Barry without mentioning his Jutta. They were inseparable. They were partners for many years, and Barry and Jutta were the first example I ever experienced of a couple in their 60’s with teenager crushes on each other. They were utterly, undeniably adorable. To her, he was a burly, wild, hunky genius, and to him, she was the sexiest woman alive. Soulmates.

A few months after I joined the orchestra, Jutta and Barry had me over at their home for salmon and wine. They insisted that I drink and enjoy myself, and they could have cared less that I wasn’t 21 yet. They chatted with me for hours, asking about my life, telling me stories of theirs. They were generous and loving. It seemed like this was the way they were with all of their friends.

Barry and Jutta finally, quietly married right before his first brain surgery in 2012, a few months after I met my wife, Samantha. They were utterly thrilled that Sam and I had found each other, and they greeted her like a member of the family.

On my first tour with the orchestra, while the orchestra was warming up onstage, Barry told me that he had first seen Jutta in the audience at the Pavilion. Even though she was sitting far away, he could see her eyes. He was in love with her forever.

(Many thanks to my colleagues Daniel Rothmuller, Armen Ksajikian, Camille Avellano, Joanne Pearce Martin, Mitchell Newman, Leticia Strong, and Barry Gold for their additions, editions and photos, and their support of this post.)

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Replies

October 26, 2016 at 03:20 AM · Thank you Vijay,

what wonderful thoughts and words all spoken with veracity....

I was lucky to witness and be in Barry's presence wherein

the artist was equal to the music which was was equal to the man.

Very few can claim that

May his memory be a blessing for all who were lucky enough to cross paths with this very special human being.

Eric B.

October 26, 2016 at 05:20 AM · Beautiful Tribute to Barry! Thanks for including my photo...I loved capturing how much they loved each other.

October 26, 2016 at 05:51 AM · Thank you so much Vijay and violinist.com for this beautiful tribute to Barry Socher-- he was loved by all who knew him.

October 26, 2016 at 11:28 AM · What a fantastic tribute. Thank you very much.

October 26, 2016 at 01:33 PM · Just lovely...

October 26, 2016 at 03:16 PM · This is a wonderful post, Vijay! It's the Barry I knew, and in a few instances, the Barry I didn't know, for he had so many layers. Thank you for sharing this with us. – Rick Ginell

October 26, 2016 at 03:36 PM · Thank you for this lovely tribute! My father, Don Muggeridge, played with Barry for some 30+ years in the Phil. We all loved Barry so so much- will never forget seeing him (and Steve, Ray and Armen) dressed in a pink tutu as a Pink Fairy Armadillo :)

The world is a little dimmer now, without Barry's warm light.

Blessings- Linda Muggeridge

October 26, 2016 at 03:51 PM · I only spoke to Barry a handful of times, but I watched him carefully every time I attended a concert at Disney Hall. Somehow his demeanor, his musicianship, his concentration and his smile guided me through the music, sometimes more so, than the conductor's baton. I will miss him terribly. Thank you for the tribute. May he rest in peace.

October 26, 2016 at 04:55 PM · Wonderful tribute. Beautifully written and illustrated.

October 26, 2016 at 06:41 PM · Here is the official obituary from the LA Phil:

Barry Socher, a recently retired first violinist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, passed away on Saturday, October 22 following a long and courageous battle with brain cancer. Mr. Socher, born November 2, 1947, is survived by his loving wife, Jutta Thorne; three sons: Peter Thorne, Michael Thorne and Aron Socher; one daughter, Leslie Beattie, and four granddaughters.

Socher was hired by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Carlo Maria Giulini in 1981 and played in the orchestra's first violin section for 35 years. He performed frequently with the LA Phil's New Music Group and Chamber Music Society, as well as in recitals throughout Southern California.

Throughout his illustrious career, Socher served as concertmaster for the Los Angeles Master Chorale Orchestra, Pasadena Pops Orchestra, Fresno Philharmonic, Ojai Festival and Oregon Bach Festival Orchestras. Additionally, he was the founder and first violinist of the Armadillo String Quartet.

Socher was also a successful composer, having written pieces performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Fresno Philharmonic and other ensembles throughout the United States and Europe. In September 2015, the LA Phil performed his composition FinTango at the Hollywood Bowl, in honor of his final concert as a member of the orchestra.

A Los Angeles native, Socher taught at the Idyllwild School of Music and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute for many summers, and also served on the faculties of Pomona College and the University of Southern California.

LA Phil Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel dedicated the matinee performance on Sunday, October 23 at Walt Disney Concert Hall to Socher.

There will be a celebration of his life sometime in the not too distant future.

October 27, 2016 at 06:45 AM · Thanks for sending this to me, Ken. I remember Socher, mostly from the Bowl.

I'll pass this on to my daughter, who took some lessons from Rothmuller.

Steve Reilly

October 27, 2016 at 07:23 PM · Dear Vijay,

When Barry tried to call me a short while back, he was not able to articulate at the moment, and I missed the opportunity to fully share a good-bye. Your wonderful piece gave me some peace, which as a bad pun is the only memorial to Barry that I can muster right now.

Best regards,

Urs (Rutishauser)

Barry's stand and joke partner at John Muir HS, 1961-63.

October 28, 2016 at 03:10 AM · Thank you for posting this wonderful tribute. I remember Barry as a kid when I attended ISOMATA. --Lynn Maxine Rosen, Utah Symphony Violinist

October 28, 2016 at 06:50 AM · How is it possible to tell all of you about our 'wacky' friendship which began at ISOMATA, or at Idyllwild in the Summer Music Camp/s starting around 1959? Barry Socher sat right behind me on 2nd Stand, outside,1st Violin, and teased me from the first orchestra rehearsal until our last in person visit here in Chicago when the LA Phil came to Orchestra Hall in, I believe, 2001, performing resplendently in a Piano Concerto with Finnish piano great, Olle Mustonen, and Esa Pekka Salonen on the podium .. It had been years since hearing the LA Phil. but this refined yet powerful orchestra had expanded their 737 Jet wings to a full Jumbo 747 Jet, flying high above touching even God's Clouds in an orchestral work which, later at a 'Reunion with Lizzie' party, I told 'our' Barry, "now the LA Phil prays ..." Barry Socher's soul heard all I was saying yet too moved to speak all in my heart that evening. T.K. Wang, Roy Watanabe, Dennis Trembly, Michelle Bloch Zukovsky, John Schiavo , even my Heifetz classmate, Robert Witte, all gathered 'round our 'Reunion LA in Chicago' Table to remember, hug each other and laugh because Barry was 'On' and there never was nor will be a Violinist so 'quiet' about his playing & work success as Barry Socher ... Barry lived for Music and loved to make all in his sphere laugh!!

It is going to be one tough thing for me to contact many of our longtime Idyllwild friends with this wrenching news ~ Barry, as his dear friend, Vijay Gupta, has written, embodied all that a loving musician of innate talents and completely DNA natural gifts of musicality, true discernment, and true zest for Life, was ~ an idol figure in my childhood mind's eye ... As he matured he did begin to resemble Johannes Brahms, with beard and in physical countenance! And the neat thing about Barry was his no-big-deal spontaneous insane yet tinged with all knowing knowledgeable musical sense of from the sublime to the ridiculous Art of Humour!!

Upon seeing Barry's onstage photograph at Walt Disney Hall posted above, closely to the first 2 paragraphs of this Tribute on the Truth on Barry Socher, I thought, 'how lovely Barry is being saluted for his Life in Music" ... Now 1:35 AM, October 28, 2016, I've had a real shocking jolt and deep sadness which was like an LA haze of smog over my spirits earlier this evening -- of deep despair. When my better 'other' came in around 7:15 Thursday evening, my head was down, drooping and heart feeling utterly empty ... Now it all makes sense for a twinkling Light in the World of Music has been called 'Up' to perform his 'Fin Tango', "Monster and The Maiden" (which Barry 'premiered' at Idyllwild on several Stunt Nights to roaring success!), & later to sit under my late father, Ralph Matesky's, nose as Concertmaster to prepare to lead Idyllwild's 'Star' Tour Orchestra for Christmas in Santa's Super sleigh in lieu of the SAS Jet initially flown from LA International to the like's of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and Bergen, Norway to perform a Heavenly 'Encore performance' of Sibelius' Violin Concerto as we all did on Earth in Fall, 1965, (just prior to my performance of the 'Adagio di molto' before the Sibelius Family in The Master's birth-house for Jean Sibelius' Centenery Inaugural Concert -Ceremony proclaiming it the 'Sibelius National Memorial Museum') with camera's rolling, after our packed Scandinavian audiences roaring and thumping feet in rhythmic unison to salute Dad, Concertmaster Barry Socher (who was LA Phil-bound) & myself as Violin Soloist on a given-to me on-loan del Gesu, playing the Sibelius w/ an infectious rhythmic orchestral accompaniment with many soon to become esteemed members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Of an entire Los Angeles, USC - bred generation of Idyllwild injected-with-joy musicians, Barry Socher, without question, was the essence and symbol of the Harvey Pittel's, Ronnie Romm's, David Jolley's, Paul Katz's, Nathaniel Rosen's, Clara Rosenzweig Lindner, Camilla Sheldon Wilson Scott's, Linda Rose's, Karen Jackson's, Linda Nurnberg's, David Weis's, Loren Marstellar's, Christie Lundquists, Michael Tilson Thomas's, Paula Robison's and on and on ... Barry, we'll all be together again someday "At Idyllwild, At Idyllwild, At Idyllwild ... Pine Trees ..... ". And you best get in touch with Ataloha at "Perspiration Point", but quick!

My deepest condolences to Jutta, all other family and every hurting heart now missing your unique presence of Music fused with utter Joy ~ I'll miss you the rest of my Life, dear Barry.

Your 'wacky' Violin Friend, "Lizzie", with Love and a Lifetime of Memories dotted with Barry Socher twinkling stars in the skies always Above ...

October 30, 2016 at 12:14 AM · P.S. to Vijay Gupta ~

Your extraordinary Tribute to my longtime funny Friend & dear musical colleague, our unthinkably departed Barry Socher, should have The Nobel Prize for an "In Memoriam" work of grand literature with true soul and sympathy ...

Please, time permitting, email me when there is a date set for

the Los Angeles 'Celebration of Barry Socher's Life' ~

Barry and many of us, his Idyllwild Family of adoring Friends, all started out as teenagers loving Music not to mention the true comedian in our midst, who made us laugh, laugh and Laugh until our stomach's ached but oh so joyfully!! "Monster and The Maiden" was born at Idyllwild, most probably, at the Snack Bar where we all hung out between endless rehearsals amid raging appetites waiting for Lunch and Dinner!

Sitting directly in front of Barry was God's blessing upon me, for just to my right on the podium, was my splendid musician, , Conductor/extraordinaire Father, Ralph Matesky, who could get very wound up & deeply engrossed in bigger messages in Masterworks of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Bach, and hosts of other great orchestral literature..With Barry 'covering my back' I was enabled to carry out the very demanding duties of a young Daughter -Concertmaster to her Father-Conductor's insistence's!!

And, in the most tense moment of my violin soloist-daughter of father-conductor in Sibelius' Violin Concerto & Barry Socher in the Concertmaster Chair -- so empathetic and musically in sync with my 'vision' of the Sibelius at The Dress Rehearsal in Aula Hall when 'Dad' went ballistic & his 'Kid' wouldn't relent, actually walking off stage & packing up the Guarnerius del Gesu, on loan, in the case, thinking, "I'm not playing with a father who yells at me, his daughter, in front of an entire 100 plus piece orchestra", Barry was a soft shoulder to lean on just prior to going on stage that night to debut in the Scandinavian country next door to Finland, in no less than the Sibelius Violin Concerto ~ I believe Barry Socher's professionalism had much to do with the ridiculous success of our collaborative all-hands-on-deck rendering of the Sibelius Violin Concerto! Barry never displayed any envy nor ill-will toward any musician as far as I know! He was, truly, One of a Kind, and uniquely true to his many selves, which, Thank God, we all were all beneficiaries whenever near the 'Light' of Barry Socher ... With my deepest condolences to you, Vijay, his friend, his adored wife, Jutta, children and grandchildren, and to all of you in "The Barry Socher extended Family and Nation" ~

Elisabeth Matesky (aka, "Lizzie")

*www.linkedin.com (contact info)

October 31, 2016 at 06:26 PM · I met Barry Socher a long time ago when I was struggling to find my way in the music world as a pianist. I was also in love with chamber music and was a graduate student at Northridge in a Masters program for Piano Accompanying. I can't remember exactly how I met Barry but I was blessed to know so many great musicians during those years. Most were at or had studied at USC with other wonderful famous musicians. I wanted to play with and learn from all of them.

I hesitated at the time to even ask let alone think I was capable of playing with any one of them. But Barry was immediately more of a human being to me than a musician although both were one and the same. He said yes, of course.

For a very short time-too short, I had a trio called, The Arrakis Trio. Myself, Barry and Roger Lebow. We rehearsed more than we played in public. But I was in heaven.

The last time I saw Barry was right after Dudamel took over as conductor. I was coming to LA for other reasons but he managed to snag a seat for me down close to the orchestra. I watched him play and relived an earlier time.

Nothing I have done in my life since (except my children) has given me more pleasure than chamber music and that trio.

Paula DeFreitas

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