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A Tribute to Dr. Ross E. Armstrong

By Courtney Beck

Dr. Ross E. Armstrong (photo by Drew Altizer)

Dr. Ross E. Armstrong
September 14, 1954 – August 29, 2017


It is with enormous sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Ross E. Armstrong after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Ross served on Philharmonia’s Board of Directors for 13 years, six of them as President. A natural leader, Ross led the organization from strength to strength. His unparalleled brilliance and kindness were known to all and he dedicated so much of his life to PBO. Under Ross’s thoughtful leadership, PBO grew from the Bay Area’s best-kept secret to an ensemble increasingly in demand at the national and international level. Ross was very proud of his board of directors and all they had accomplished. Ross’s vision for the organization and hard work would forever change the course of this orchestra.

Ross championed every major artistic project and hoped to live long enough to experience PBO’s production of Jean Philippe Rameau’s Le Temple de la Gloire. He made it to a rehearsal and two performances last April and nothing made him happier.

Over the years, Ross wrote program notes and translated libretti for PBO and interviewed many guest scholars and artists at our pre-concert lectures. An accomplished pianist with an encyclopedic knowledge of Baroque music, Ross was a scholar in his own right. He approached each concert with joy and with a goal to learn something new. He attended every donor event and greeted each person as if he’d known them for years. His authenticity and graciousness were unparalleled – he was the consummate host and gentleman. As a patron of the arts, he knew precisely what made PBO entirely unique and often contributed ideas on marketing and fundraising. He introduced countless friends to the organization and took incredible pride in hosting the annual Gala, attending dinners at Nic’s, and joining the orchestra on every tour. He loved fundraising because he cared so much. It was always easy for him to ask others to support Philharmonia because he believed there was nothing else quite like it. He knew every instrumentalist and vocalist by name and was passionate about vocal music. While his knowledge of Baroque music was vast, he particularly loved Handel operas and oratorios. Ross’s musical tastes were also broad and it gave him great pleasure to see that PBO was introducing new music into the repertoire. Ross was also very pleased when PBO announced just a few months ago its Jews & Music Initiative because the music reminded him of his late husband Jonas (Jay) K. Stern.

Ross gave of himself in every way and PBO was the better for it. His was a life well lived in spite of illness – and his legacy will live forever in our music-making. That is what he wanted. Ross felt strongly that Philharmonia must continue to be strong and innovative and to move forward with purpose and passion.

For all of us in the Philharmonia family, this is an especially painful loss. Ross’s warmth, good humor and his knowledge and passion for music and the arts, were–and will remain–a wonderful inspiration for us all.