Mary Ruth Ray, Founding Member of the Lydian Quartet, Mourned

Mary Ruth Ray
Mike Lovett
Mary Ruth Ray

Mary Ruth Ray, beloved faculty member for more than three decades, critically acclaimed violist and a founding member of the Lydian String Quartet, died Jan. 29 following a battle with cancer. She was 56.

Ray joined the Brandeis faculty in 1980, teaching viola and chamber music. In 2005, she became chair of the Department of Music, a position she took very seriously, says senior academic administrator Mark Kagan, who worked closely with her over the past eight years.

“She was the consummate violist — not just as a viola player but her persona and management style,” says Kagan.

“The viola is the middle person between the high voice, the violin, and the low voice, the cello,” he explains. Similarly, Ray acted as a natural mediator while leading an academic department composed of musicologists, composers, performers and conductors. “To bring all these people together in a room and achieve consensus is unusual,” Kagan says.

Ray was, he says, “someone of great stability and great focus” who knew how to communicate. “I think she applied that brilliantly to her work as chair.”

The musicianship Ray displayed as part of the Lydian String Quartet was praised throughout the United States, Europe and Russia. The Lydians performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other great concert halls around the world.

Ray was also an active soloist and chamber musician, performing as a guest artist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Bard Music Festival, the Apple Hill Chamber Players, Boston Musica Viva, and Juneau Jazz and Classics. A soloist with Boston’s Emmanuel Music, Ray performed the complete cycle of Bach’s sacred cantatas as well as the chamber music of Debussy, Brahms, Schubert and Schönberg. 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 at school in Knoxville, Tenn. They made music together for more than 46 years.

“She loved to perform, to be onstage,” Eissenberg says. “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. I don’t think there is a more important quality than that in a chamber musician, or a friend.”

At Brandeis, Ray — who was often called “UV,” short for “Ultraviolet” — worked closely with student composers and student ensembles, and collaborated with colleagues on a variety of 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,” says Scott Edmiston, director of the Office of the Arts. “Her legacy is one of grace and beauty. She created exquisite moments of transcendence, beyond language, that can only happen through music.”

Gifts may be made to the Mary Ruth Ray Memorial Fund, which will support Brandeis instrumentalists. Mail gifts to the attention of Mark Kagan, Brandeis University, MS 051, P.O. Box 549110, Waltham, MA 02454.

A memorial tribute to Ray will be held Saturday, April 20, at 2:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall at Slosberg Music Center.