Mary Ruth Ray, founding member of Lydian Quartet
Ray chaired music department, performed as soloist
Mary Ruth Ray, who passed away Jan. 29 following a battle with cancer, was a beloved member of the faculty for more than three decades and a critically acclaimed musician who played some of the world’s finest concert halls as both a soloist and a founding member of the Lydian String Quartet.
Ray joined the Brandeis faculty in 1980, teaching viola and chamber music, and served as chair of the Department of Music beginning in 2005, a position she took very seriously, according to Mark Kagan, senior academic administrator for the department, who worked closely with her in the eight years since.
“She was the consummate violist – not just as a viola player, but her persona and management style,” said Kagan, who also knew Ray on the performance circuit for more than 30 years.
“The viola is the middle person between the high voice, the violin, and the low voice, the cello. There’s a certain approach where you’re mediating at times and knitting certain elements together, but also, it takes a certain kind of personality, someone of great stability and great focus, and they have their own voice,” Kagan said. “I think she applied that brilliantly to her work as chair,” where the department comprises historical musicologists, composers, performers and conductors “To bring all these people together in a room and achieve consensus is unusual.”
As a founding member of the Lydian String Quartet, Ray was an internationally known performer praised throughout the United States, Europe and Russia. With the Lydians, she performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other great concert halls. Several of the quartet’s 30-plus recordings were chosen "Best of the Year" by the New York Times.
An active soloist and chamber musician, Ray performed as guest artist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Bard Music Festival, Apple Hill Chamber Players, Boston Musica Viva and Juneau Jazz and Classics.
As member and soloist with Emmanuel Music in Boston, Ray performed the complete cycle of more than 200 sacred cantatas by Bach as well as chamber music of Debussy, Brahms, Schubert, and Schoenberg. She was a recording artist with CRI, Nonesuch, Centaur, Harmonia Mundi and New World Records.
Fellow music professor and founding Lydian Judy Eissenberg first met Ray in school in Knoxville, Tenn., and had been making music with her for more than 46 years.
"She loved to perform, to be on stage...but as much as she had her own voice, she very much wanted others to sound well, do well, and would play in such a way as to make that possible," Eissenberg said. "I don't think there is a more important quality than that in a chamber musician, or a friend.
"As a friend and as a teacher, Mary Ruth made one feel valuable, essential," Eissenberg added. "I don't remember her ever saying 'no.' I'm sure she must have, but she was more of a 'why not, try it' kind of person.
At Brandeis, Ray, who was often known as “UV,” short for Ultra Violet, worked closely with student composers and student ensembles, and collaborated with colleagues on courses from music theory to cultural history. She also taught and mentored countless young violists.
"Mary Ruth had a profound and lasting impact on the arts at Brandeis, as both a teacher and an artist. Her legacy is one of grace and beauty,” said Scott Edmiston, director of Office of the Arts. “She created exquisite moments of transcendence, beyond language, that can only happen through music. Her talents and her gentle spirit will live on in our memories."
A memorial tribute to her will be planned at a later date.