Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist for 4 decades was an ‘exemplary artist’


When Paul Phillips was 4, life changed forever after his dad, who was cleaning out a closet, found something and handed it to his son. It was an old violin.

His devotion to the instrument — he practiced as many as five hours a day in his youth — ultimately led him to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played for 40 years before retiring in June 2020.

“Paul was always the first person on stage practicing and warming up, easy to spot with his snow-white hair, and never a hair out of place,” said CSO cellist Brant Taylor. “He typified as much or more than anyone else I ever worked with the qualities of profession­alism and discipline.”

Mr. Phillips, a foodie, loved traveling the country and world with the orchestra and going to restaurant­s and museums along the way.

“It’s a beautiful experience to be part of the CSO and travel the world,” said Mr. Phillips’ husband, Lloyd Palmiter. “They are so well received everywhere they go.”

Mr. Phillips died March 27 from brain cancer. He was 77.

During his four-decade tenure, Phillips played under the directorsh­ip of worldrenow­ned conductors: Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim and, most recently, music director emeritus Riccardo Muti.

“I am profoundly saddened. I have lost a dear friend, a wonderful colleague, a marvelous person,” Muti said in an obituary published on the CSO website. “An exemplary artist and gentleman. I will never forget him.”

Mr. Phillips was born Sept. 28, 1946, in Canton, Ohio, to Paul Phillips Sr., who worked for a company that made cardboard boxes, and Margaret Phillips, a five-and-dime store clerk.

“I’d be playing Elvis in one room and Paul would be in the other room practicing, and I’d be making fun of him for it, but who got the last laugh, right?” his sister, Sheila Ghezzi, recalled with a laugh. “But I’ve always been so proud of Paul and what he was able to accomplish. We all were,” she said.

His father played the mandolin and, as the story goes, wanted to play violin as a child, but his stepfather didn’t want to pay for lessons, she said.

Mr. Phillips attended the Cleveland Institute of Music and played for four years in the Indianapol­is Symphony Orchestra and eight years in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra before joining the CSO.

While studying music, he worked at a French restaurant and at a men’s clothing store. He occasional­ly attended CSO performanc­es with a classmate from Chicago, and the two would look at each other and say, “Oh my God, I’ll never be in this orchestra,” Palmiter recalled with a laugh.

Mr. Phillips performed on a violin built in 1760 by renowned Italian luthier Joseph Gagliano. Such an instrument can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Thankfully, the person who sold it to him was very interested to see it end up in the hands of a fine player, and negotiated the price accordingl­y,” Palmiter said.

Mr. Phillips kept the violin at Orchestra Hall and had a second violin at home.

He loved Dean Koontz novels, driving his silver Chevrolet Camaro SS convertibl­e, cooking for friends at his Gold Coast condo with a view of Lake Michigan and enjoying a cocktail on his patio surrounded by potted flowers.

“He was an impeccable dresser, and impeccable in everything that he did, and he really was just an affable guy that people really liked being around,” said fellow CSO violinist David Taylor, who grew up playing violin with Mr. Phillips in Ohio.

“He also had an award-winning smile, a beautiful, genuine smile,” Palmiter said.

In addition to his husband and sister, Mr. Phillips is survived by his nephew, Robert Ghezzi. A private memorial is being planned.

 ?? PROVIDED ?? Violinist Paul Phillips as a boy.
PROVIDED Violinist Paul Phillips as a boy.

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