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Bruce Wade, 'irreplaceable' violinist with BSO


Bruce LaRue Wade, a violinist who played for 20 years with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, died Tuesday from complications of AIDS.

Mr. Wade, who had been ill since the spring of 1990, was 41 years old when he passed away at Joseph Richey Hospice. His last appearances with the orchestra were in December. Before being transferred to the hospice, he was a patient at Union Memorial Hospital for a month. Though he was too weak to switch on a radio, he continued to listen to music until the very end.

"Music and the orchestra was his whole life," said BSO music director David Zinman. "The most touching thing I will remember about this year was when we played Mahler's Ninth last fall. He loved Mahler and this symphony is about death and dying. Bruce played his guts out, living this symphony as if he knew it would be his last Mahler. His death is an irreplaceable loss to the orchestra."

Although he was only a section player, Mr. Wade was considered one of the orchestra's sparkplugs -- a natural leader who, in the words of BSO violinist Craig Richmond, was "the total orchestral violinist."

"Bruce lived, ate and drank music," Mr. Richmond said. "He could never get enough."

There was almost nothing about the orchestral repertory that Mr. Wade did not know. He could discuss the fine points of a symphony by Mozart or one by Shostakovich. When he wasn't studying music, he was studying recordings.

He had one of the largest collections of recordings in Baltimore and could talk knowledgeably about the interpretation of a single phrase in Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony.

Whereas most orchestral musicians are content to know their parts, Mr. Wade generally knew everyone's part. If any member of the BSO had a complete score on stage the night of a performance, it was likely to be Mr. Wade.

His encyclopedic knowledge of the orchestral repertory was illustrated about two weeks ago when Mr. Wade was near death in the hospital.

The violinist lay in bed listening to one of Baltimore's classical-music stations. When one of his visitors changed the station, there was a two-second exchange between two of Mr. Wade's musician friends about which Schumann symphony was being performed on the new station. Though barely able to speak, Mr. Wade immediately resolved the dispute by whispering, "It's Mendelssohn's 'Reformation' symphony."

Mr. Wade was also an expert in Baroque music. He was a founding member of Pro Musica Rara, Baltimore's premier early-music ensemble.

Born in Chicago, the son of a postman, Mr. Wade showed his musical talent after his family moved to Seattle.

He began to study the double bass as an 11-year-old and soon became proficient on the tuba as well. He took up the violin two years later and was so talented that his first teacher taught him free of charge.

After his family moved back to Chicago in the middle 1960s, Mr. Wade joined the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony's training orchestra. He quickly became the orchestra's principal second violinist, eventually becoming -- when he was a student at Northwestern University -- its concertmaster. He joined the Milwaukee Symphony in 1972 and joined the BSO the following year.

"If you had 100 Bruce Wades on stage you would have had an orchestra better than the Berlin Philharmonic," said BSO violist Jeffrey Stewart. "He was tremendously energized by making music and tremendously committed to it. The orchestra was his family and we all loved him."

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at University Baptist Church, 3501 N. Charles St.

Mr. Wade is survived by his father and stepmother, Joe and Edna Wade of Little Rock, Ark.; his grandmother, Rosie Wade; and two aunts, Ruby Watson and Christine Key. All are of Chicago, Ill.

Friends suggested memorial donations to the following organizations:

The Bruce L. Wade African Youth Ensemble Fund, c/o Carolyn Foulkes, 2106 Dobler Ave., Baltimore 21218; Joseph Richey Hospice, 820 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore 21201; Moveable Feast, Box 38445, Baltimore, 21231; AIDS Action Baltimore, 2501 N. Charles St. 21218; HERO, 101 W. Read St., Baltimore 21201.

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