Charles R. 'Chuck' Ellis, music director and conductor, dies

Charles Ellis was music director of the Prince George’s Philharmonic Orchestra.
Charles Ellis was music director of the Prince George’s Philharmonic Orchestra. (Leo Howard Lubow / Baltimore Sun)

Charles R. "Chuck" Ellis, music director of the Prince George's Philharmonic Orchestra and a frequent panelist on WBJC-FM Radio's "Face the Music" program, died New Year's Day from cardiac arrhythmia at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital. The longtime Hampden resident was 67.

The son of Alan Ellis, a machinist, and Martha Knapp, a homemaker, Charles Ronald Ellis was born in Boston and raised in Needham, Mass., where he graduated in 1966 from Needham High School.


In 1970, he earned a bachelor's degree in music from Indiana University. He served in the Army from 1970 to 1973. He earned a master's degree in 1975, also in music, from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

He moved to Baltimore, where he studied at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and earned a doctorate in music in 1991. While at Peabody, he held a teaching fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University.


"We were students at Peabody at the same time," said Jonathan Palevsky, WBJC-FM program director and host of "Face the Music."

"He adored music and ... took his conducting very seriously. He always respected the composer's score," said Mr. Palevsky. "He also had good musical instincts, and as a guest on 'Face the Music,' he never lacked for an opinion. He always did a great job."

In 1993, Mr. Ellis was named resident conductor of the Prince George's Philharmonic Orchestra and since 2001 was musical director.

Earlier, he had served as associate conductor of the Jacksonville (Fla.) Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 1992, and was musical director of the Levine Chamber Orchestra of Washington, which is composed of faculty and advanced students from the Levine School of Music.

In addition to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, his guest-conducting engagements included the Syracuse Philharmonic, the Columbus Symphony, the Florida Symphony, the Charlotte Symphony and the Savannah Symphony orchestras.

Dr. Ellis also staged productions with the Boston Lyric Opera, the Boston Summer Opera Theatre, the Goldovsky Opera and the Prince George's Civic Opera.

He had toured extensively in the United States, Japan and China as a member of the Army Field Band, in which he played the euphonium, a brass wind instrument with valves. He also toured as conductor of the Montovani Orchestra.

"He was a great guy and a curious talent who loved orchestral music. He was an unusual blend of music and baseball," said Elam Ray Sprenkle, a Baltimore composer and longtime friend. "He was very down-to-earth and could talk about a Beethoven symphony for hours and then talk about baseball. And when it came to music and sports, he always spoke his mind.

"A really good conductor stays loyal to the score, which says something about Chuck. He conducted 'A Rounding,' a piece of mine in 2013, which is a word I had taken from a Walt Whitman poem, and did a fine job," Dr. Sprenkle said.

"He always memorized the score and he did not impose his personality on it. He always said, 'The score is the score.' When he did Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring,' which is a very tough score, it was very powerful. He pulled you right in."

A 1996 performance by the Prince George's Philharmonic of works he conducted by Edward Elgar and Vaughan Williams earned praise from a Washington Post critic.

Of his conducting of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance," which poet William Butler Yeats described as "heroic melancholy," the Post critic wrote, "Charles Ellis' reading was fittingly full-bodied with a hint of bombast Elgar surely would have liked."


"In addition to being a musical maven he was a huge sports fan, Ravens and Orioles and those annoying Boston teams, the Red Sox and Bruins," said Mr. Palevsky, who often attended games with Mr. Ellis.

Mr. Ellis umpired high school baseball games for years until he began to suffer from leg problems in 2013. He was a member of the Mason-Dixon Baseball Umpires Association.

Mr. Ellis met his future wife, the former Anna Andersen, in 2001 at the Hampden yoga class they both attended. They were married in 2003.

Mr. Palevsky and Kati Harrison, an on-air host, operations director and music producer at WBJC, enjoyed sporting events and dining with Mr. Ellis and his wife.

"Chuck was a good cook, told a decent and indecent joke, and liked good Scotch," recalled Mr. Palevsky, who had watched the Candiens-Bruins hockey game New Year's Day and then dined with Mr. Ellis, his wife and Ms. Harrison at his home.

"His last meal was his excellent chowder, which he had made," said Mr. Palevsky. "We left around 7:30 p.m. and he was stricken later that evening."

Mr. Ellis enjoyed traveling to the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and England. A diverse reader, he enjoyed 19th-century history, and was a collector of music scores.

A memorial service for Mr. Ellis will be held at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at First Christian Church, Roland Avenue and Bellemore Road.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Ellis is survived by a sister, Patricia Kirkbride of Hove, England.

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