Delmar A. Stewart, a longtime Baltimore Symphony Orchestra violist and luthier, died of heart disease Aug. 12 at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Cheswolde resident was 73.
“Baltimore Symphony musicians are devastated by the sudden passing of beloved violist Delmar Stewart...,” read a statement from the BSO. “Delmar was a kind, gentle, and graceful presence who will be deeply missed by all who were privileged to work with him.”
Mr. Stewart was walking to his car 20 minutes after performing with the BSO at its “Summer with the Symphony Donor Appreciation Concert” at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, when he was stricken on the street with the heart attack that ended his life.
“It was amazing. He always said he wanted to die with his viola in his hand and he did,” said his wife of 48 years, Aliza Lidovsky, a pianist.
“I loved Delmar, as did everyone else in the orchestra, and I played with him in the section as long as he was with the orchestra,” said Jeff Stewart, a violist and friend of 50 years, who is no relation.
“He had had some health issues recently but he still wanted to come and play with the orchestra, and he died with his boots on,” he said.
Delmar Allen Stewart, son of Marvin Stewart, a filling station owner, and Georgia Stewart, a teacher, was born in London, Kentucky, and moved with his family to Davenport, Iowa, where he graduated from high school.
When Mr. Stewart was five, he heard a performance of a violinist and told his parents he wanted to learn to play the instrument, but as was customary at the time, was given piano lessons. He rebelled and his parents instead purchased an inexpensive violin for him.
After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied violin and chamber music with Donald Weilerstein, who for 20 years was first violinist of the Cleveland Quartet, and a member of the Weilerstein Trio.
His junior year, he decided to switch to the viola and completed his bachelor’s degree in 1972 at the University of Iowa.
Mr. Stewart obtained his master’s degree in 1974 from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he studied with Martha Katz, also a member of the Cleveland Quartet, and was a member of contemporary music ensemble The Creative Associates.
He left Buffalo and traveled to London where he studied with Cecil Aronowitz, a violist and founding member of the Melos Ensemble.
While in London, he met and fell in love with Aliza Lidovsky, an Israeli pianist, whom he married in 1975.
That same year, the couple returned to Buffalo where Mr. Stewart became acquainted with Otto A. Erdesz, a noted Hungarian viola and violin maker.
Mr. Stewart purchased a viola from Mr. Erdesz while at the same time becoming curious about crafting violas, so, he started to research instrument making and experimenting.
He was mentored by several luthiers, artisans who make or repair stringed instruments, but he was mostly self-taught, family members said.
Eventually, Mr. Stewart constructed a satisfactory viola that met his requirements and played it in the orchestra for the next 30 years. It was the instrument he was carrying when he died.
In 2018, he became enamored of jazz and the sound of the electric guitar, and as he had done with the viola, began making replicas of different guitars and invented his own ergonomic guitar.
Professionally, he toured with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and played in the 75th birthday recital in 1975 for American composer Aaron Copeland at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
In 1977, Mr. Stewart won a viola chair with the BSO, where he continued to perform until his last concert under the baton of Maestro Jonathon Heyward, the symphony’s new music director, “who Delmar liked very much and who made him optimistic about the future of the BSO,” his wife said.
At his death, Mr. Stewart was one of the orchestra’s longest tenured members.
“Delmar was a warm, generous person in the section, and as an artist, he played with a big warm sound,” Mr. Stewart said.
“We worked together for 40 years,” said Peter Minkler, a fellow BSO violist. “He was a very kind and gentle person who was always willing to help glue a bridge or repair strings. As a musician, he reported on time, was prepared, and ready to go in our viola section.”
Another connection the two men had was through Mr. Minkler’s Erdesz viola.
“Delmar had studied with him and he wanted to borrow mine. So, he took it home for a weekend, measured it, and when it returned it to me, he gave me a six-pack of beer which he thought was good payback,” Mr. Minkler said, with a laugh. “But, he was always wiling to help anybody anyway he could.”
“He performed any surgery that was needed on instruments and he made wonderful instruments,” Mr. Stewart said.
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In addition to the viola and guitar, he also enjoyed playing the harmonica.
“So much of what my father gave to the world, he gave to music and through music,” said his daughter, Dr. Miriam Stewart, of Philadelphia, in her eulogy.
“He practiced meticulously, arduously, with a dedication and persistence that did not abate over time. My childhood was awash in the sound of the viola, single notes held out for multiple beats as he made micro-adjustments in the intonation, particular measures and passages repeated over and over, the familiar cadences of Bach cello suites and the ‘Arpeggione Sonata’ heard for the hundredth and the thousandth time,” she said.
When his daughter would call, he’d say, “I think I’m finally learning to play the viola.”
“Music was how he provided for his family, but it was also the closest thing he has to a spiritual practice,” Dr. Stewart said. “It was the way he expressed his tenderest self.”
Services were held Aug. 16 at Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by another child, Sable Stewart of Hampden; two brothers, Nelson Stewart of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Warren Stewart of Berlin, Germany; a sister, Susan Chalian of Larchmont, New York; and a grandchild.