Death of a trail-blazing viola player, aged 49

We regret to share news of the death of Deb Lander, possibly Australia’s outstanding contemporary music specialist on her instrument. She was 49.

Deb, who premiered works by Elena Kats Chernin, Mark Isaacs, Margery Smith and others, was latterly professor of viola at the University of Kentucky.

She suffered cardiac arrest three years ago while on her way to watch Falstaff at Lexington Opera House. Prompt CPR brought her back and she was able to resume a normal existence. She did much to promote CPR skills and awareness within the community.

She said of the viola: ‘It’s such a fantastic, dark sound, like chocolate – dark chocolate. It’s the best instrument, no question.’

deb lander

Our sympathies to her parents and family.


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  • So very sorry to hear of Deb’s passing. I enjoyed our conversations and work together sponsoring activities for Kentucky’s Viola Society. I shall miss her enormously.

  • Gratitude for this service on the site, you draw our attention to the passing of many fine musicians who aren’t headliners. Much appreciated.

  • thanks very much for this lovely tribute to my beloved sister. If I may make two small corrections: Deb was 49 and when she went into cardiac arrest she was going to watch Falstaff, not play in it.
    Thanks again!

    • Thanks, Sara. Apologies for the errors, will adjust right away. And condolences to the family. Love the recommendation about the Sydney Test. best, Norman

  • In my early days of conducting, I had the very great privilege of conducting a performance with Deb Lander and Peter Jenkin of Bruch’s Concerto for Clainet, Viola and Orchestra and Stephen Cronin’s Duo Concertante for Clarinet, Viola and Strings. Deb was very kind and extremely supportive of me. I’m devastated to hear this very sad news. Condolences to her family.

  • Deborah Lander is sorely missed by the viola community. To add to the above, Deb Lander was a key organiser and performer in the Australian New Zealand viola conference held in Newcastle, NSW. She leaves an inspiring and impressive legacy of commissions and recordings, many of which are now a part of the Australian Music Examinations Board viola syllabus and which can be viewed and heard online at the Australian Music Centre

    Our deepest condolences to her family and friends from the violists of Australia and New Zealand.

  • Deb was a dear friend and colleague who did so much for the viola and for viola community around the world. We are all saddened and shocked to lose Deb. My deepest condolences to Deb’s family and friends. I know she would want all of us to continue her mission of becoming COR competent, one person at a time.

  • I was a pupil of Debbie’s in Sydney from 2002 – 2004. In the three years that I studied with her, I came to know her as a fiercely intelligent, amazing musician with a talent for teaching. She was passionate about new repertoire, always telling me to commission my composer friends to write works for the viola – citing the time she commissioned a friend (was it Mark Isaacs?) while she was at the Con, and paid him with a cup of coffee! She was an inspiring, thoughtful musician and a great pedagogue. My condolences to her friends and family.

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