Playing for Keeps

Violinist Rich Amoroso ’92 is committed to a musician's life 

by Lauren Davidson

Rich Amoroso ‘92 plays a violin crafted by Nicolai Gagliano in 1761

Rich Amoroso ‘92 plays a violin crafted by Nicolai Gagliano in 1761

The red velvet seats in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall are empty. There are no spectators peering down from the three balcony levels that wind and curve around the entire space. But the air is suffused with sound—the tinkle of piano keys, the perky pluck of cello strings, the deep whomp of tubas and happy harmonies of flutes fill the concert hall as the more than 100 members of the Philadelphia Orchestra tune their instruments onstage. In the second to last row, third seat from the end, Richard Amoroso ’92 shoulders his violin as he has done for the last 12 years, a slight smile on his face.

A Philadelphia native, Amoroso grew up surrounded by music, his father a strings specialist in the public-school system. “I knew at age 5 or 6 that I was going to play the violin for a long time,” he says. “Even still, I tried to rebel—I didn’t really decide until I was 22.”

He began college at nearby Villanova University but transferred to Dickinson after two years, majoring in economics. “I really enjoyed the people at Dickinson, and the liberal-arts atmosphere was great,” he says. “Villanova felt impersonal and large, while Dickinson felt like a family.”

He played in a few ensembles and credits Truman Bullard, professor of music emeritus, with “reigniting my ability to appreciate music,” he says. Amoroso graduated Phi Beta Kappa and decided to pursue a music-teaching certificate at Immaculata University, after which he spent time substituting and soul searching.

“I started drifting back into playing, and that’s when I knew,” he recalls. “I started practicing really hard to regain the skills I had lost and was ready to see where it would get me.”

After three years of diligence and some freelance gigs, Amoroso began auditioning for top orchestras around the county. When the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the country’s most acclaimed groups, offered him a place in 1998, he accepted immediately.

“It’s amazing to be back where I started,” he says. “I get to sit on stage with some of the most incredibly talented people. The level is so high, you can see how much everyone loves it, and there’s such a rich array of experiences among us.”

The orchestra plays more than 120 concerts a year, nationally and internationally. In April it embarked on a three-country, 11-performance tour of Asia, during which it performed at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai to an audience of 18,000. And while not every concert is so thrilling, Amoroso admits that it’s rare to have a job where people applaud you before you go home. “It’s an uplifting feeling,” he says. “I live for the moments in concerts when something special happens onstage. It might be subtle, and the audience may not even know it happened, but it’s amazing.”

Those moments keep him going through the long rehearsals and frequent travel that take him away from his wife, Anne Richeson Amoroso ’92, and their children, Sofia, 9, and Alessandro, 5.

“I started with the orchestra in the first violin section and I continue in that same position today,” he says. “I spent a year as assistant concertmaster, but I’ve never tried to go anywhere else. It’s a quandary—do I look for a better position with a lesser orchestra when this is my hometown, where my family is, where I have some stability?” Amoroso also is a private instructor for 10 aspiring violinists and picks up occasional solos and gigs with other groups.

“I tell my students that to do this, you have to love the music, not the money or other things,” he says. “Every job has its pros and cons, but at the end of the day, I really love music.”

Back to rehearsal at the Kimmel Center—the conductor dispenses instructions, and the instruments fall silent. The first few notes of Stravinsky’s Petrushka eke out of the woodwind section, followed by the cellos. It is one of Amoroso’s favorite pieces. When the violins join in as the pace picks up, he plays with passion, rocking forward and back with the beat, that slight smile still in place.

“I tell people that when I hear or perform that piece, I feel like a 4-year-old kid who was given his first large box of 64 crayons,” he says afterward. “The colors and characters of the music are so vivid and expressive. It is, after all, a ballet about puppets coming to life.”

Published June 29, 2010