Orchestra violinist shot dead. Conductor mourns.

Orchestra violinist shot dead. Conductor mourns.


norman lebrecht

August 21, 2014

Mary Whitaker, a violinist in the Westchester Philharmonic and the Chautaqua Symphony, has died in tragic, horrific circumstances.

Details are still sketchy, but it appears she was shot in Chautaqua during the course of a robbery. UPDATE here.

She was a close friend of Marin Alsop and played at her parents’ memorial tributes. Marin has tweeted:

“Today is filled with unbearable sadness at the news of the tragic loss of our dear, kind, gentle, funny, loyal friend, Mary Whitaker.  I simply do not understand this world; nothing will ever be the same. Generous and loving always. “

mary whitaker

This is Mary with Marin’s son, Auden, published uniquely with Marin’s permission. (c) Marin Alsop.

Here is Mary’s career path:

Mary Whitaker moved to New York after graduating from Indiana University with a performance degree in violin. Over the past three decades Ms. Whitaker has been associated with many of the major freelance orchestras in New York, toured regularly with the New York City Opera Touring Company, and also toured with Barbra Streisand during the 2006-07 North American and International Tour. She has performed with such chamber music groups as STX Ensemble, which records and performs the works of Iannis Xenakis; String Fever, a swing/jazz ensemble; and SIRUS String Quartet, which focuses on contemporary and improvisational compositions. Ms. Whitaker has been a member of the Westchester Philharmonic for 25 years, plays regularly on Broadway, and spends the summer months performing with the Chautauqua Symphony in western New York State.

Mary, rest her soul, was 61.


  • MarieTherese says:

    My heart goes out to Ms Whitaker’s family and friends. The violence in the US has gotten so out of hand that I’m not sure that there is any hope for us…

  • Nardo Poy says:

    All of us who knew Mary are in complete shock. Of course, the NRA will shout their usual platitudes about how “guns don’t kill people, PEOPLE kill people”. Idiots. They fail to say that if the guns were not in the hands of deranged people in the first place, this kind of murder could not have occurred. One can run away from a knife. Mary is yet another person who had to pay the price of our week-kneed politicians not confronting the NRA with courage.

    • Nardo Poy says:

      Sorry – I meant to type “weak-kneed”.

    • tim says:

      Don’t be not only ignorant with poorly educated comments on gun control but also being insensitive to the tragedy. If commenting at the expense of someone else’s grief is your only way to prove a point it just shows you and you insight is below average.

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      “They fail to say that if the guns were not in the hands of deranged people in the first place, this kind of murder could not have occurred”
      Right on! Watch:

      • Barbara Berg says:

        “Deranged” people?? No, stupid white trash meth-head. I was her stand partner for 35 years in the orchestra and sat with her for her last concert on earth. I fear this poor county and cannot wait to get back to my intelligent home city. Pure disgust at the kids raised here (my own children have held summer jobs with the rural kids – they are a horror).

        • music muse says:

          This is the first I hear that Chautauqua County has become overrun with white-trash meth-heads. I haven’t been there since the late 1970’s, when it was still a bucolic paradise, filled with gentle, church-going folks.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      New York State has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country: required licenses, magazine capacity limits, background checks, “may issue” for concealed carry, and so on. In short the whole list of “reasonable, commonsense” restrictions my moral, intellectual and ethical superiors advocate. What further measures do you think would have saved Ms. Whitaker?

      • Nardo Poy says:

        Greg: surely you’re aware that most if the guns used in crimes throughout the country and in New York State in particular are those smuggled in from states which have few or no restrictions on sales or do not require background checks. If this were not the case, perhaps Mary would have had a chance. Sorry, but that NRA argument you’re proposing just doesn’t hold an ounce of water.

        • Paul Abruzzo says:

          Nardo, you need to smarten up before you’re allowed to post.

          Neil McGowan – Damm right I have the right to bear arms. Take your bucketload and stick it up your rear. Musicians are always such spineless cowards. But you know what? It’ll be someone with the right to bear arms who’s going to end up protecting your sorry ass when you get in trouble even though you don’t deserve it.

          God, I’m so embarrassed to be a musician when I constantly see how ignorant and cowardly they really are. For shame.

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          So highly-restrictive New York has a higher homicide rate (3.5 per 100,000) because of the guns smuggled in from unrestricted Vermont (1.3 homicides per 100,000), New Hampshire (1.1 per 100,000) and Utah (1.8 per 100,000). Got it.

      • newyorker says:

        That’s right, it’s an absolutely null argument. Criminals who break into homes don’t get the guns above-board. It’s a national problem.

      • Gaylon Arnold says:

        Greg is right that Mary’s death was an exception. Few people are killed by strangers with guns. Most people killed by guns are killed by their own gun or the gun of someone they know. Any rationalization for the continuation of this childish addiction to deadly toys just reveals the vacant logic, the weak psyche, and lack of decent humanity in the person trying to get away with it.

    • Michael Nolte says:

      Banning guns won’t do much good, hoodlums and thugs would then just use knives. Then those who cry out to ban guns would blame it on the knife never the perpetrator.

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Nardo’s comments are spot on. And people don’t come any better than Mary. I hope they find the murderer ASAP.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    I am beyond anger. Be warned – anyone who posts anything about the “right to bear arms” or any other NRA guff can expect a bucketload from me.

    A wonderful talent snuffed out by some pathetic punk with a shooter.

    • Nardo Poy says:

      Neil: I’ll join your bucket brigade and will help fill it with whatever substance you advise.

      • tim says:

        Anyone who uses this tragedy to promote their politics is not only poorly educated but truly lacks empathy. It’s a terrible tragedy and gun control is your only retort? A mother died, check yourself because you’ve wrecked yourself, if gun control is your only ace. Smh

        • Nardo Poy says:

          Lack empathy? If it weren’t for the horror of this tragedy, I’d laugh out loud. I knew Mary and I’ve been sick to my stomach ever since hearing about what happened. As far as gun control and this incident have in common, I don’t think it needs any explanation, as it should be obvious to any empathetic human being. By the way, she wasn’t a mother.

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Me too. 🙁

  • NYMike says:

    Mary was also active in Local 802’s politics. She had served on its Executive Board and was a member of its Trial Board at the time of her death. She possessed a striking intelligence, sense of humor and kindness. Local 802 will miss her as will I.

  • Carol (Sadowski) Hawkins says:

    How sad and shocking.Chase sent me this link. Mary was always such a bright light to be around. I hadn’t seen her in probably 25 years but remember her with fondness. She was always happy and smiling.My heart and thoughts go out to her family and close friends.

    I so agree with you Nardo about guns and NRA-it’s out of hand. We all need to be active in helping the political machine that can stop putting more guns out there. brady etc.

    RIP Mary

  • Karen Banos says:

    Musicians share a special bond, and this is a loss that is felt across the country. There are buckets of tears being shed for this senseless loss, to the music world, and to the planet. Remember to hug your loved ones and tell them you love them, folks. You never know when, where or how something might happen. Holding Suzanne and all who love Mary in the light. And remember to light up a room when you enter it, the way Mary did. It is the best way to honor her spirit.

  • Larry Cravetz says:

    I did *not* know her, but such a senseless death leaves ALL of those who love Classical music reeling!

  • Bernard Phillips says:

    Mary was one of the absolute most lovely people I have ever met! I am deeply saddened about her loss and pray blessings of peace to her family during this difficult time.

  • Douglas Romoff says:

    One of the most gifted sweet women in the world. She was a colleague and a neighbor for years. This is such another blight on the of the declining moral values in our society. Few were more kind hearted than Mary. Tragic loss…..My heart goes out to her friends and loved ones.

  • Itsjtime says:

    a life was lost, in a seemingly horrific way. This is not a time for self important dolts to get high on the mountain top to proclaim their personal politics. A musician, a human being has been murdered, and I send my condolences to her family. I hope that Nardo and Blair can look past their own noses to see that one of our own has passed and this is about humanity not politics. shame on you.

  • Bruce Hangen says:

    I am stunned hearing such sad, sad news. Though I barely knew her, she was a terrific person and violinist. My heart is heavy with grief and sadness over her loss, over all such innocent victims of senseless crime, and over our country’s inability to protect its own citizens through gun control. And in Chautauqua, of all places ~ a place of peace, thoughtfulness, learning and hope for all people! My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and loved ones at this awful time.

  • Maestro M says:

    It is a bit strange, as Chautauqua is a walled-off, guarded private community. Was it someone she knew?

  • ArtMoppet says:

    The Buffalo News published the following account of Ms. Whitaker’s murder, “Chautauqua Symphony violinist found slain in her Westfield-area home,” suggesting she might have been targeted.

    Very sad news in every way.

  • The news is saying that she was “targeted”. Who in the world would want to kill this lady?

  • Roger says:

    Maestro M, almost all the musicians in the Chautauqua Symphony live outside the gated grounds. Mary’s place, like mine, was extremely rural and isolated. Most of us never even lock our doors. This seems like a random drug-fueled robbery gone bad, but I am only speculating. It is a terrible tragedy.

  • michelle says:

    Here’s my opinion. Stricter gun laws are not going to keep guns out of criminals hands. Let’s just say this. If some punk walked in my home uninvited they would NOT be walking out. It makes me sick to hear about all these shootings lately but I’ll do whatever needed to protect my family. You know what stops a bad guy with a gun, a good guy with a gun! Who would of thought this would happen in such a small community. It’s sad.

    • newyorker says:

      Please don’t hijack this comment thread with such idiotic rhetoric.

      Stricter gun laws would have made it harder for a burglar to have access to a weapon.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    Paul Abruzzo

    You are an ignorant, violent, and vicious hoodlum. I hope you are banned from this site permanently for this extraordinary outburst of hatred. How DARE you use an obituary for a musician slain by gunfire to promote your agenda of slaughter and homicide?

  • Max Raimi says:

    It was impossible to be in Mary’s company and not to smile. We were friends for more than 30 years, and saw each other go through so many chapters in our lives. It is some solace to know that she found contentment in recent years with her partner Suzanne, but it is inconceivable to me that whatever comes next for me cannot be shared with her.

    • music muse says:

      Ah, thanks, Max. You’ve provided a clue: In such a poor, red-neck community, one wonders if this was a hate-crime (i.e., a gay-bashing).

  • Allformusic says:

    The fact that she was shot in the head indicates a pre-meditated execution, not a routine robbery gone wrong. So, a hate-crime/gay-bashing would seem to be the most obvious motive here. Let’s hope the bastard gets caught soon.

    • Nardo Poy says:

      It turns out she wasn’t shot in the head. During her autopsy it was discovered that she was first beaten, then shot in the leg and chest. The perps were caught after they stole her car, drove it to Erie, PA and attempted to use her credit cards.

  • George Daugherty says:

    @ Paul Abruzzo : Your spewing of hateful rhetoric — especially calling musicians “spineless cowards” and “ignorant and cowardly” in the comments section about a wonderful, beautiful violinist who was gunned down and brutally murdering — is one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. It literally made me sick to my stomach. You made ME embarrassed to be a musician.

  • George Daugherty says:

    @ Paul Abruzzo : Your spewing of hateful rhetoric — especially calling musicians “spineless cowards” and “ignorant and cowardly” in the comments section about a wonderful, beautiful, gentle, peaceful violinist who was gunned down and brutally murdered — is one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. It literally made me sick to my stomach. You made ME embarrassed to be a musician.

  • Nardo Poy says:

    God – so much BS posted by those who don’t understand the whole gun control issue (read: those NRA fanatics who change the nature of the argument when they can’t justify their argument). Let me put it this way: first of all, if you’re embarrassed to be a musician, then consider leaving the field. It’s a noble profession best left to those with a sense of humanity. Secondly, the stance taken by the NRAists is completely the opposite from that of the NRA from only a couple of short decades ago. I can assure you, my friend, that I post not from ignorance, unlike you. The NRA used to be sane and reasonable not all that long ago in that it supported registration and background checks for all who would purchase firearms. It’s only when the far Right took over that this stance changed. Perhaps you all who are rabid second amendment advocates should take note first of all about the true meaning of the second amendment regarding militias (and it’s historical context). Also there is the issue of rights vs. responsibilities. I hope you’re not so dense as to understand this concept. The straw man that gun rights activists set up is that those who advocate gun control are trying to take their guns away. Leaving out of the equation the original intent of said amendment, the point of gun control legislation is not to take away guns from those responsible citizens who understand the responsibilities of owning a firearm, but to have anyone who wishes to purchase a firearm to go through a background check and to have each firearm registered. Resistance to this is absurd, as it doesn’t take away anyone’s “rights”, but makes certain that any firearm can be traced to its owner. The reasons for this should be apparent to any reasonable human being. As for the silly comment made that the next step would be to regulate or ban knives, the author of that statement does not have the intellectual capacity to understand the difference between being confronted with a loaded firearm and a knife, the latter if which cannot fire a deadly bullet from a distance. Even this dolt would be able to run away from a knife. Let’s at least be honest about our arguments, please.

  • DA PETERS says:

    I didn’t know Mary but want to echo similar sentiments about this inane act of gun violence. Spending the summer myself @ Chautauqua, the public signage on the front lawns in this bucolic area extolling the repeal of the NY SAFE Act says it all. Condolences to Mary’s family.

  • Vane Lashua says:

    I’ve been in love with Mary since I saw her graduation concert at Indiana University with her partner and have been in contact every few years since, last time this year in Woodstock. I left an admiring message on her phone during the Wiener Sch. concert yesterday, not knowing what had happened. If you know what memorials are planned,or who’s in charge, please contact me by replying to this comment

  • Virginia Lee says:

    Actually, the two were “homeless from Pennsylvania,” as a more complete news article reported. And while it’s important for many to channel their shock and sorrow through outrage about and solutions to how effectively we might end such senseless cruelty and pain that we all agree must stop, for here and now, perhaps it’s best simply to offer compassion to the friends, colleagues, and family who knew Mary well and will miss her a great deal, indeed. This was a woman whose talents she’d devoted, for many decades, to the music she loved in order to share it not only with those others who performed it along with her, but with many different audiences of strangers, as well. She had a gift, she knew its joy, and she shared it with everyone she could for the bulk of her life–by any measure, most would deem that a life well-lived. It is a sad and tragic loss, which clearly this entire community mourns deeply. While every visitor here may not share a similar acquaintance nor perhaps as deep a feeling as those who’d long known Mary Whitaker well may’ve done–nonetheless, I am sure that everyone who has come here has done so to offer deepest sympathies, as have I. It is just so very hard to lose anyone near and dear to our lives. May you each find some comfort in special memories of the times you enjoyed as you spent them together with Mary. In my experience, I’ve never regretted treasuring such moments whenever they’re happening, whenever I feel them. It is incredibly good fortune to do so but, even moreso, when the intimacy of playing music together has been a part of it.

  • Susy says:

    This tragedy seemingly was carried out by persons looking for an “easy” way to enrich themselves, In Erie, the growth of daily violence has been downright shocking over the past two years, and much of it seems to be fueled by heroin and other drug – addicts desperate to fund their next fix. I don’t think Mary’s death is about guns – without the gun they probably still would have continued beating. It is about the greed and violence these low life types were willing to carry out to get the goods they wanted – money, credit cards, a John Deere. The relative isolation of her home, her being a single female, living alone, must have enticed their criminal minds. As a musician, I am grieved by this horrific act and the tremendous loss inflicted upon all of her dear friends and colleagues.

  • Miriam Charney says:

    Nardo Poy – this is Miriam, from many years ago. I’m in Truro right now, the 26th. You’re in Wellfleet. I can’t come to the concert on Thurs nite, but would really love to get together with you to talk about Mary. I’ve spent the last 20 summers in Chautauqua and had just left when this happened. We’d just gone to an art opening together, actually. I really need to talk if you have some time. I’d put my phone, but don’t know this site well enough. Thanks and love and condolences to us all. MC