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Ruth Lenz

Published May 24, 2024

Ruth Lenz

by Scott Faulkner

Ruth Lenz is many things to many people. To most folks in northern Nevada, and the greater musical world, she is a violinist par excellence. About this there is no question. The concertmaster (first chair, first violinist) of both the Reno Phil and the Reno Chamber Orchestra (RCO), and the Nevada Opera until it ceased operations, she has led every professional Reno orchestra for well over a decade. 

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Ruth Lenz with violin | Photo by Stuart Murtland

The daughter of Reno musicians John and Paula Lenz, and member of the sizeable, musical, and redoubtable Lenz family, Ruth began violin studies with her mother at the age of two. Her aptitude on the instrument quickly became apparent, and by her teen years, she had won professional contracts in the violin sections of the Reno Phil and the RCO. From that time on, her musical progress has been remarkable. After receiving undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Nevada, studying with legendary violinist and short-hop specialist, Phillip Ruder, she went on to the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana to earn a doctorate in violin performance.

Audiences have heard Ruth at the Nevada Chamber Music Festival; Apex Concerts; La Musica International Chamber Music Festival in Sarasota, Florida; Kammermusikstage in Barth, Germany; Festival Napa Valley; Classical Tahoe (including a tour to Morocco); and the Spoleto Festival. She’s served as guest concertmaster and/or guest soloist of the Sunriver Music Festival, the Fresno Philharmonic, and several other regional orchestras and festivals. And she’s shared the stage with the likes of Joshua Bell, Natalie Cole, Leonard Nimoy, Itzhak Perlman, and Luciano Pavarotti. During the pandemic lockdown, a viral video of her driveway performance of the Meditation from Thais reached over 32,000 views. Several years ago, when performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a summer festival orchestra, one of her violin strings unraveled. Nearing the end of the piece, instead of panicking and stopping, she simply played the rest of the concerto on the three strings that still worked, coolly and spontaneously altering her practiced fingerings.

In addition to her dazzling violin playing, she is a dynamic, insightful, and empathetic teacher. It’s one thing to master a skill. It’s quite another to be able to effectively teach that skill to others. Ruth is an incredible musical diagnostician. Whether it’s solving a problem in the Reno Philharmonic string section or working one-on-one with one of the dozens of private students she teaches, who run the gamut from young children to professional adults, Ruth is one of the best I have ever seen at isolating, correcting, and immediately improving sounds coming from the people around her. And she does this in a way that is diplomatic and supportive. Any teacher would love to have Ruth’s talent in this regard. 

If playing and teaching were the whole the story, Ruth Lenz would clearly be remarkable. But it’s not all. Some people are simply more talented and more interesting than everybody else. Clearly, Ruth is one of those people. 

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Photo: Ruth Lenz and Scott Faulkner

When she wanted a canvas from her grandmother’s wall, but couldn’t have it, she called the artist (Jeff Nicholson), got his permission, and painted a perfect copy for herself. When, during the pandemic, she and her father recorded a movement of the Brahms Horn Trio, Ruth performed both the violin and piano tracks. She is a Ninja-level mom to her kids Sidonie and Benjamin, an accomplished equestrian, an avid hiker, and while not quite a botanist, arachnologist, or herpetologist, she’s a lover of plants, trees, spiders, snakes, and just about any kind of critter that crosses her path. Ruth refreshingly debunks a whole lot of stereotypes about snobbish and effete classical musicians who don’t want to get dirty or be sophomorically irreverent. Except that her talent makes her unlike everybody else, she’s just like everybody else. 

At the time of Ruth’s 10-year anniversary as concertmaster of the Reno Phil, I was asked to pen a few words. Since the statement is still as true as ever, here’s what I wrote:

Ruth Lenz is a big-league talent. One of the great joys of my life is when top international musicians discover and discuss what a fantastic player she is. One example: I think it was the second Nevada Chamber Music Festival. Longtime principal violist of the legendary Cleveland Orchestra, Robert Vernon, came out of his first rehearsal of a quartet in which Ruth was a member and said, "Who is Ruth Lenz and what in the world is she doing here!?" She could be playing anywhere in the world. I hope that our community fully realizes how fortunate we are that she chooses to live and perform here.

Ruth gets this kind of response all the time. She draws a golden sound from her 1957 Ferdinand Sacconi violin and has the rare gift of being able to step into the solo spotlight, always with ice water in her veins, or to be a selfless and perfectly supportive accompanying player. Few egos are this flexible. To me, she is a treasured colleague, trusted friend, favored niece (by marriage), and an inspiration who makes our corner of the world a better place.

Reno Chamber OrchestraNevada Chamber Music Festival | Martinu Three Madrigals | Ruth Lenz, Dustin Budish

Scott Faulkner is the principal bassist of the Reno Phil and Reno Chamber Orchestra, and for 14 years was executive director of the RCO. For the League of American Orchestras, he serves as director of its League Alumni Network as well as the faculty director of its Essentials of Orchestra Management program, which takes place every summer at The Juilliard School.

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