George Orner Jr., Baltimore Symphony Orchestra violinist, dies

George Orner Jr, who played the violin in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for 49 seasons and was a broker of fine musical instruments, died of a heart attack Dec. 13 at Sinai Hospital. The Mount Washington resident was 80.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, he was the son of George Orner Sr, also a violinist and former director of the Jacksonville Philharmonic Orchestra, and his wife, Ruth Hope Coleman.


Mr. Orner studied the violin with his father. While a junior and senior at Landon High School, from which he graduated in 1956, he joined and played in the Jacksonville Orchestra.

Mr. Orner attended Georgia State University and originally planned to go into the insurance business. As a student he became a violinist and was made first violin player in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.


Before his senior year of college, Mr. Orner was drafted into the Army. He served two years in West Germany as a concertmaster of the Seventh Army Symphony, based at Stuttgart.

“While on leave, he visited Berlin and witnessed the beginning of the Berlin Wall being constructed,” said his wife, Ellen Ginzburg. “He toured with his orchestras and at the end of the 1980s, he was in Berlin again. At that time he saw the wall just before it would be taken down.”

After leaving the military, he joined the North Carolina Symphony and played briefly. He was recruited to join the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra by its then-maestro, Peter Herman Adler.

He played the violin for the rest of his career. He retired in 2010 and for decades was principal second violinist. He was a close associate of its later conductors, Sergiu Comissiona and David Zinman, and recorded with the orchestra.

He freelanced and often played with ensembles led by Arthur Fiedler, director of the Boston Pops Orchestra. He was also an accompanist for the Handel Choir.

Herbert Greenberg, who retired as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster in 2001, recalled Mr. Orner: “George was a character from another generation. His playing was very important to the orchestra. He never missed an entrance when a conductor gave a beat. He was an inner voice in the orchestra when you need to have perfect rhythm.

“George came from a legacy of violin playing,” said Mr. Greenberg. "He was very dependable and a great person for me to have as an anchor. He was consistent and a stabilizing force. He was simply a fine leader of the second violin section."

Mr. Greenberg also said, "Musically, George had seen it all. His personality was proud and stubborn. He was sure of himself. He didn’t care much for the banalities in life. He grew up with a violin being in his house. He was one of the core members of the core guys who under Comissiona built the orchestra in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a part of the heartbeat of it all. We had a great run together."


Mr. Greenberg said Mr. Orner could be skeptical of visiting conductors who arrived with vaunted reputations.

“George had the attitude, ‘We’re going to make this work in spite of the person in front of us,' ” said Mr. Greenberg.

Mr. Orner had an international rare stringed instrument business, Orner Enterprises Inc. and worked closely with Los Angeles instrument maker Michael Fischer.

“My father was a force of nature,” said his daughter, Sarah Titford of Baltimore. “He was a talented musician who worked within a global network. He traveled with the orchestra and for his rare stringed instrument business. He had a wide circle of friends from diverse backgrounds.”

He taught violin at Peabody Preparatory and Goucher College.

He spent summers playing with a Mexico City orchestra.

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Throughout his career, he aided young violinists starting their professional lives by coaching.

“He would never charge his students,” said his wife. “And he would lend a good instrument for their auditions.”

Mr. Orner was noted in a Baltimore Sun article in 2004 when visiting concert artist and violin player Gidon Kremer left his $3 million Guarneri del Gesu violin behind on an Amtrak train hours before he was to play at Joseph Meyerhoff Hall.

“Meanwhile, Kremer rehearsed with the BSO on an instrument lent to him by BSO violinist George Orner,” said the article.

The lost violin was located by an Amtrak baggage handler and returned.

In addition to his daughter and wife 31 years, who also played in the BSO, survivors include a son, Asher Orner of Arlington, Virginia; two other daughters, Jessica Orner of New Jersey and Genia Sokoloff of New York City; and a sister, Ruth Hope Gross of Jacksonville.


A private memorial gathering was held.

For the record

An incorrect photo of Mr. Orner ran in earlier versions of this obituary.