Judy L. Geist joined The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Riccardo Muti in 1983. Her arrival marked a milestone in the Orchestra’s history when she became the first woman to chair in the viola section since the ensemble was founded in 1900. She attained the position of fourth chair in 1992 and served as acting assistant principal under Music Director Christoph Eschenbach.
Ms. Geist graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1974. Her principal teacher was Joseph dePasquale and she studied chamber music with members of the Guarneri, Budapest, and Hungarian string quartets. She performed Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante on a European tour with the Long Island Youth Orchestra during her years at Curtis.
Ms. Geist went on to perform in a vast musical network, freelancing early in her career. She played A Little Night Music and How to Marry a Millionaire before they continued to Broadway, and she toured with Burt Bacharach. In 1975 she was part of a string quartet program at SUNY Binghamton and then joined the Audubon Quartet in residence at Marywood College in Scranton, PA. From there she toured as principal viola with the National Ballet of Canada throughout Canada and the US, and for several weeks at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. Rudolf Nureyev and Karin Kain danced to her solos.
Ms. Geist then settled in New York City, continuing to perform with ballet orchestras and legendary dancers including Mr. Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Maya Plisetskaya, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Alexander Godunov, the American Ballet Theatre, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She recorded and premiered new music with Parnassus, the American Composer’s Orchestra, the Philadelphia Composer’s Forum, and the Composer’s Conference in Johnson, Vermont, and at the International Woman’s Music Festival. Ms. Geist played in Broadway shows and with the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall, and she performed frequently with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She was principal viola of the Philharmonia Virtuosi and the Soviet Emigre Orchestra on tours to Japan, Colombia, South America, and in concerts in the US. She played in the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Madeira Bach Festival in Portugal, and with Chick Corea on a world tour that ended at the Newport Jazz Festival. She appeared as guest artist with the Lenox Quartet, the American Chamber Ensemble, the Music Project, and the Thouvenel Quartet. After joining The Philadelphia Orchestra, she performed chamber music in collaboration with guest artists Chantal Juillet, Emanuel Ax, Pamela Frank, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Mr. Eschenbach, and as a member of the Society Hill String Quintet.
In addition to performing with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Ms Geist presented concerts and events in Washington State between 2001 and 2013. She worked with composer students as a resident artist at Cornish College in Seattle. She also presented chamber music at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) and led a festival at the Clyde Theatre in Langley, featuring her group, Ensemble M, performing chamber music heralded as Boccherini and Beyond. She performed Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with Elizabeth Pitcairn at WICA and gave quartet concerts on the island with alumni from the Curtis Institute. In Philadelphia she premiered works by Philip Maneval, Libby Larsen, Bernard Rands, and Augusta Read Thomas with Network for New Music. She commissioned Hannibal Lokumbe, who composed a work for solo viola and spoken word entitled When the Peace Comes, which premiered on both coasts. She presented chamber music at the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia and a program featuring music by Jennifer Higdon with pianist Ching-Yun Hu. She has also given solo recitals in Philadelphia and New York City. Ms. Geist reunited with Hannibal to perform When the Peace Comes at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and more recently, in a Philadelphia Orchestra educational endeavor at a school and local prison.
Ms. Geist is a visual artist as well. She has given dual presentations of paintings and chamber music in galleries and has exhibited locally. Her work can be found in private collections.
Photo by Jessica Griffin