Virginia M. Reinecke, a Baltimore pianist and organist who entertained audiences for nearly 70 years and a co-founder of the “Music In the Great Hall” series, died Oct. 20 of cardiovascular disease at Shangri-La Senior Living in Ellicott City.
The longtime Catonsville resident was 97.
“She was truly a Baltimore icon and a most relevant musician and performer,” said noted concert pianist Leon Fleisher, who lives in Baltimore. “She was quite extraordinary.”
“Virginia was so funny, and so Baltimore,” said Baltimore Sun music critic Tim Smith. “She was extremely fond of musicians who had personality, and she always wanted the music to be honest. I really appreciated her, and she never had any agendas.”
“I can’t believe Virginia is no longer with us. She was such a strong presence,” said Jonathan Palevsky, program director and on-air WBJC-FM host.
“I always felt that if she didn’t play the piano, she would have been a great fox hunter and a grande dame,” he wrote. “She always reminded me of Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia.”
“Virginia was a brilliant musician and a fine woman,” said Jim Rafferty of Halethorpe, who studied piano with Miss Reinecke for more than 40 years. “She really was a genius.”
The daughter of Carl Reinecke, a tailor and dry cleaner, and Lillian Reinecke, a seamstress, Virginia M. Reinecke was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville.
Miss Reinecke began studying piano when she was 6 and soon afterward began playing the organ. When she was 7, she was awarded a full scholarship to Peabody Preparatory.
“Our whole family was musical, but we were poor,” Miss Reinecke said in a 1996 interview with The Sun. “I had taken some piano lessons from the nuns at school, but this was the Depression, and after a while there was just no money. But I loved music. So I kept playing by picking out tunes, basically teaching myself.”
A friend suggested to the young girl’s mother that she be sent to Peabody.
“My mother said to her, ‘You know we can’t afford that.’ And the woman said, ‘They’ll give her a scholarship. You write to them today and ask for an interview.’ I wrote the letter, posted it the next day, and I was in the director’s office within the week,” Miss Reinecke recalled. “He said I was too young to enter the conservatory, so I went to the prep, then later graduated from the conservatory.”
Miss Reinecke’s entry into the world of music came after she attended a piano concert with her mother and set aside the notion of becoming a nun.
“I remember saying to myself, ’I’m going to do that,’ ” she said in the newspaper article.
After graduating from Peabody Conservatory in 1940, she taught there for nine years. In 1944, she obtained a diploma in piano, also from Peabody.
She studied during the late 1940s and early 1950s with the Polish-American pianist Mieczyslaw Munz, who was then on the Peabody faculty. She said he encouraged her interest in the music of Chopin.
She also studied piano with Harold Bauer and Isabelle Vengerova, and organ with Virgil Fox.She studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire, where she was a diplome in 1954 on a Fulbright scholarship.
“I loved to play Chopin, but so often I would want to do something that the score didn’t show,” she said in The Sun Interview. “There are no good scores of Chopin, probably will never be. Munz played between the lines, like [Alfred] Cortot. And I thought, ‘My God, that’s the way it goes, that’s what I wanted to do.’ ”
“I remember when The Sun music critic Weldon Wallace called Virginia a ‘poet of the piano,’ and I agree that she was,” said Dorothy Pula “Dotsy” Strohecker, a longtime friend and music lover who lives in the Baltimore area.
“She was a great Chopinist, and I’m of Polish extraction. She had such a gift when it came to playing Chopin, and we used to say that Virginia must have had a Polish grandmother,” she said. “Her great dream was playing in Poland, and I went with her there in 1993, and because she was a great pianist she was well received.”
While touring Poland during a series of concerts, Miss Reinecke received an unusual request.
“Someone asked if she wouldn’t play some Gershwin, and Virginia being Virginia, accommodated them on the spot and the place went crazy,” Mrs. Strohecker recalled.
In addition to playing concerts at the old Cadoa Hall on West Franklin Street, at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Miss Reinecke performed at numerous venues on the East Coast, including Town Hall in New York City, and on musical trips to England, Germany, Russia and China, in addition to Poland.
“She loved chamber music and it was a thrill to sit next to her as a page turner and watch her interact with a trio or quartet,” Mr. Rafferty said.
From 1938 until 1947, Miss Reinche was organist and choir director at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church on Valley Street; from 1947 to 1955, she was organist and choir director at Ss.. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church.
She taught at Catholic University of America from 1954 to 1955 and was on the faculty of the National Cathedral School in Washington from 1955 to 1959.
During the 1950s, she directed the Trinity Preparatory School, Maryvale Preparatory School and Loyola College glee clubs. From 1949 to 1955, she was director of the Children’s Experimental Theatre in Baltimore.
She was a co-founder in 1971 of a chamber music series called Music in the Great Hall at Maryvale, with Eileen Twynham, which is now the Chamber Music Society of Maryland.
Miss Reinecke served as the artistic director for 30 years for the series, whose concerts are now held at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church.
For decades, Miss Reinecke taught piano at her Montrose Avenue home in Catonsville.
“She always wanted you to work hard in advance, but when you were performing, she wanted you to have fun,” Mr. Rafferty said. “But if you came to her studio and you were not prepared, you better watch out.”
Mr. Rafferty’s lessons were always held at 5 p.m.
“I’d go to her house and then she’d be in the kitchen poaching a fish and banging the pots and pans while I played, and suddenly she’d shout, ‘Relax your shoulders,’ and I’d say, ‘Damn, how does she know this?’ ” Mr. Rafferty said with a laugh.
In 2013, after a shoulder replacement and still dealing with arthritis, Miss Reinecke, who was then 93, gave a recital for friends and students in her home.
“I think life is a commission to be,” she told The Sun. “If I can do it, I must. It’s a calling.”
Three years ago, she moved to Shangri-La and continued playing the organ for the assisted-living facility’s Sunday Masses until last year, “when she could no longer play,” said a sister, Maria N. Garvey of Severna Park.
She had been a longtime communicant of St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville.
A visitation will be held at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 18, followed by a Mass of Christian burial iin Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at the Charlestown retirement community, 715 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville.
In addition to her sister, Miss Reinecke is survived by a brother, Thomas Reinecke of Marriottsville; three other sisters, Lillian Hart of Catonsville, Harriette Connolly Deegan of Timonium and Bobbie Prestianni of Ellicott City; and many nieces and nephews.