Need info on Broadway, jazz, family, comedy or other genres? Visit


Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts will be rededicated as Marian Anderson Hall, home of The Philadelphia Orchestra

Judy Geist

A Q&A with Violist Judy Geist

Posted by:  The Philadelphia Orchestra on May 31, 2024

In celebration of violist Judy Geist's upcoming retirement from The Philadelphia Orchestra at the end of the 2023–24 season after 41 years, we asked her a few questions.

When did you join The Philadelphia Orchestra? Who was the music director? What was it like in Philadelphia at the time? And what sticks out to you most from your first year?


I joined the Orchestra in November 1983, nine years after I graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music. Riccardo Muti was the music director. I worked with him only once when I was a student at Curtis and admired him. There were some friendly people, but it was a boys’ club and there were some difficult moments. At that time, there were only 12 women in the Orchestra. The section had been solely male for 83 years. I was the first woman violist. 

How has the Orchestra changed during your tenure? 

There is a better balance of men and women now. There have been many new waves of musicians. I had been advocating to include women conductors and composers, and thanks to Yannick, this has become the new normal. 


What are some favorite moments that stand out from your time with the Orchestra?

  • Playing new music by Chinese composers who were influenced by The Philadelphia Orchestra and our connection with China was in the spotlight when we performed Ning Wang’s Symphony No. 5 (“Ode to Humanity”) led by Yannick at the United Nations in 2014.
  • Our viola section greeted actress Helen Mirren at the Academy Anniversary Concert in 2019. Her father was a violist in the London Philharmonic.
  • I always enjoyed the fun receptions hosted by Bill and Barbara Taylor at the Academy of Music.
  • I had the chance to photograph violinist Sarah Chang making her Philadelphia Orchestra debut as a child prodigy with Muti in 1991.
  • Meeting and performing with Sting this past March. I appreciated the power of words and music with him.
  • Our many concerts at Carnegie Hall.
  • Playing Bach on the radio for the Orchestra’s Radiothon.
  • Visiting relatives for the first time in Rio de Janeiro when the Orchestra visited on tour.
  • Discovering a cousin by chance when the Orchestra was performing in Vail before the pandemic.
  • Living through the pandemic and continuing to play, thanks to our well-organized management team.
  • International tours: Italy a few times in the 1980s; going to China in 1993 for the first time; opening Suntory Hall in Japan (I have loved all of our tours to Japan); the concerts and reception in Mexico City at the stunning home of the American Ambassador; seeing Frida Kahlo’s home during a tour to Mexico.
  • US tours: I’ll never forget being in New York after 9/11 and seeing signs everywhere on store windows that said, “I Love NY.” We concluded the 2001 US tour at Carnegie Hall, and I sat next to a NYC businesswoman at a restaurant counter. I told her about the tour and what I had seen and experienced in Kansas and Iowa. She was so touched, she picked up my tab!
  • Valerie Coleman’s premiere with the Orchestra.
  • Meeting John Williams for the first time.
  • So many special concerts with Muti, Simon Rattle, and Yannick.
  • Working with many great women conductors and composers.
  • Playing Eugene Ormandy’s last concert at Carnegie Hall in 1984.

What are you looking forward to in retirement?

I’m thinking about working up recital repertoire (also good exercise). I will also, finally, allow my artistic self to get to work. [Judy is an accomplished visual artist in addition to playing the viola.]


Judy's drawing of Mozart was featuring on a Playbill cover in 2013.

Some art ideas and projects have been on hold, and it is time to do something. I will work on a series of new works for a show in a local gallery and will play a solo with the Main Line Symphony next spring. 

Photo: Jessica Griffin

Next Article >

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website and personalized content.
Learn more.