K. Lamar Alsop, 85; violinist and concertmaster

NEW YORK — K. Lamar Alsop, the longtime concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra as well as a busy studio violinist, a member of several prominent chamber ensembles, and a professional whistler, died Monday in Baltimore. He was 85.

The cause was complications of progressive supranuclear palsy, said his daughter, Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His wife, Ruth Alsop, a cellist, had died 10 days earlier.


Working with City Ballet afforded Mr. Alsop more opportunities to play solos than the concertmaster of a symphony orchestra usually has.

“I like working with the ballet,” he told The New York Times in 1979. “It’s like having your own private orchestra when you’re constantly soloing.”

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The critics noticed: In a 1977 Times review of Balanchine’s Ravel ballet “Tzigane,” for example, the dance critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote that Mr. Alsop “played the first violin solo from the pit beautifully.”

He retired from the orchestra in 1993, after more than 30 years.

Keith Lamar Alsop was born March 11, 1928, in Murray, Utah, one of eight children of Henry Alsop, a chemist who worked for a mining company, and his wife, Ethel.


Each child in the family studied an instrument, and Lamar focused on the violin, although he also studied viola, clarinet, flute, and saxophone — instruments assigned to his siblings.

He began his career at 17 in the Utah Symphony Orchestra and, after serving in the Navy, moved to New York, where he received a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from Mannes College of Music and a teaching degree from Columbia University.

Mr. Alsop was a member of the Beaux Arts String Quartet, the American String Quartet, the Carnegie String Quartet, and the Alsop-Bernstein Trio, whose other two members were his wife and the pianist Seymour Bernstein.

Ruth Alsop, who performed with the New York City Ballet Orchestra for more than 50 years, and who also played with the Radio City Music Hall orchestra and taught music at Brooklyn College and the State University of New York at Potsdam, died of lung cancer on Jan. 23. She was 82.

Lamar Alsop was a faculty member at Brooklyn College, SUNY Potsdam, and the Luzerne Music Center in Upstate New York.

He was also a member of the string section for recordings by a starry list of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, and Wynton Marsalis. He performed on the soundtracks of more than 50 movies, including “Fargo” and “Fame.”

He also enjoyed a side career as a whistler; his whistling skills were featured on albums by Bette Midler and others and commercials for Irish Spring soap and other products.

Mr. Alsop and his wife encouraged their daughter to pursue her dreams of becoming a conductor, and in 2006 she became the first woman to run a major American orchestra.

Her father made batons for her by hand, and once presented her with a batch of 30.

In addition to their daughter, the Alsops leave a grandson. Ruth Alsop also leaves three sisters, M. Elaine Love, Clair Meuse, and Nancy Green.

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