Ruth van Hulsteyn, 91, longtime BSO violinist

November 30, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Ruth van Hulsteyn, who played second violin with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for 45 seasons and was financial secretary at the Peabody Conservatory of Music for 31 years, died Sunday of a heart attack at a Salisbury nursing home. She was 91.

When she retired from the BSO in 1985, former BSO conductor Sergiu Comissiona said, "She was one of the most professional musicians I've ever worked with."

During her career, Mrs. van Hulsteyn endeared herself to colleagues and the public and was one of a handful of symphony musicians nationwide who continued to perform past the age of 70.

"At the age of 80, the symphony wanted to offer her another contract, but she said that 80 was long enough, and besides, her fingers were getting a little stiff," said her sister, Mary Truitt of Salisbury, a retired attorney.

Robert Pierce, former director of the Peabody and a BSO colleague for 15 years, said Mrs. van Hulsteyn "was a solid professional musician, and no one could ever dispute her ability."

Orchestra members recalled that during a BSO concert, Mrs. van Hulsteyn was like a cat ready to pounce on its prey, sitting forward in her chair, tense, her violin at the ready. Her eyes, unmoving, took in every swing and dip of the conductor's baton.

Mr. Pierce said he was impressed by her "extreme vitality."

Bonnie Lake, a BSO flutist since 1957, described Mrs. van Hulsteyn as a "live wire" who was always generous with her time in making a new member of the orchestra feel at home, and she recalled her dedication.

"She was meticulous with her preparation and practiced for hours each day. She did this until she retired," Ms. Lake said.

Mrs. van Hulsteyn joined the BSO in 1939 and remained through a half-dozen conductors, World War II and low pay.

The former Ruth Truitt was born in Mardela Springs on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Her father was a stone carver. Her mother, who taught school, gave her a violin when she was 8 years old.

Mrs. van Hulsteyn began her violin studies at Wesley Collegiate Institute in Dover, Del. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Peabody in 1922, earning a teacher's certificate in 1926.

She returned to Salisbury, where she and her sister joined the Snappy Six, a jazz-ragtime band that played on the Eastern Shore. She also played for silent movies and vaudeville shows.

In 1939, her husband, J. C. van Hulsteyn, who had been her violin teacher and the BSO's first concertmaster, urged her to try out for the orchestra.

She did so and was told that the only vacancy was the last stand of the second violins. "I couldn't have cared less where it was as long as it was in the orchestra," she said in a 1985 interview.

During World War II, musicians -- because of their dexterous hands -- were solicited by Bendix to work in the company's Joppa Road plant near Towson, doing delicate soldering of radio transmitters.

She divided her time between the BSO, where she made $50 a week, and the war plant, where she quickly advanced from soldering to line inspector.

She was financial secretary for the Peabody from 1946 to 1977.

Mrs. van Hulsteyn toured Germany with the BSO and on her own visited Russia seven times, China and Egypt twice, Lebanon and most of Europe.

At her retirement, she looked over her long professional career and said, "I've enjoyed every bit of my life. I'm glad I did the %% things I did. I've never been bored."

Mrs. van Hulsteyn lived for many years in an apartment on Madison Street, then at Roland Park Place before returning to Salisbury in 1990.

She was a member of the Samuel Chase Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Asbury United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

Mr. van Hulsteyn, whom she married in 1936 -- she was 31 and he was 68 -- died in 1947.

Services were held yesterday.

Other survivors include a nephew and three nieces.

Pub Date: 11/30/96 %%

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