The JSQ violist was 61.
Juilliard String Quartet violist and faculty member Roger Tapping died of cancer on January 18 at his home in Manhattan. He was 61 and is survived by his wife, cello faculty member Natasha Brofsky (Pre-College ’83) and children, Cordelia and Eleanor.
A violist who was known for his selfless music making and beautiful sound, Tapping will be remembered for his generous spirit, his immeasurable kindness and thoughtfulness, and his dedication to his students and musical partners.
Born in England February 5, 1960, Tapping received degrees from the University of Cambridge and moved to the U.S. in 1995 to join the Takács Quartet, of which he was a member until 2005. In addition to the Juilliard and Takács quartets, he was a founding member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and a member of the Allegri String Quartet, Schubert Ensemble, and Raphael Ensemble. His recordings and performances—including multiple Beethoven and Bartók quartet cycles in major cities all over the world—earned accolades including three Gramophone awards, a Grammy, and three additional Grammy nominations.
Tapping joined the Juilliard faculty and the Juilliard String Quartet in 2013, when violist Samuel Rhodes (faculty 1969-present) retired from the quartet. At that time Tapping told the Journal, “I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have the chance to play string quartets again, and, incredibly, in this quartet with its great curiosity and soul and its rich and distinguished history. I’m still pinching myself.”
In a statement, the JSQ said that Tapping was “adored by students, colleagues, and audiences around the world” and that it would “continue to be inspired by his unstoppable energy and zeal, qualities that he brought to all his musical collaborations.” The quartet continued, “The pleasure he derived from music-making was palpable and inspiring, not just for those of us who were his colleagues, but for the generations of young musicians who were fortunate enough to have known and worked with him.”
In addition to teaching viola and coaching chamber music at Juilliard, Tapping was on the faculties of the Yellow Barn, Perlman Music Program, and Tanglewood summer festivals. He had previously been on the faculties of the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music, and the New England Conservatory, where he also served as chair of chamber music. He also made regular appearances at the Aspen Festival and the Taos School among many other schools and festivals.
>>The family has set up the Roger Tapping Scholarship to support Juilliard viola students with financial need. For information or to contribute, go to giving.juilliard.edu/rogertapping or contact Irene Elias, stewardship manager, at [email protected] or (212) 799-5000, ext. 309.
>>There will be a public memorial for Roger Tapping on April 20 at 4pm in the Peter Jay Sharpe Theater.
Paying Tribute to Roger Tapping
Students and colleagues wrote about Tapping; shorter versions of some of these appear in the Spring Juilliard Journal. Send us your reminiscences at [email protected]
Provost Adam Meyer (MM ’04, viola)
Late last summer, Roger Tapping called to let me know he had been diagnosed with cancer. At that point, he wanted to keep the news private and not worry people, but he also believed it was important to remain positive. As terrible as this news was, no one could have imagined the speed with which the cancer would take him away from us. We will forever miss him.
Roger joined the Juilliard faculty and was appointed the violist of the Juilliard String Quartet in 2013. In his time at Juilliard, he had a vibrant studio of talented violists and coached a large cohort of chamber music groups every semester. He was a dependable and valued colleague, always engaged in the life of the school and always eager to listen, to help solve a problem, or lend his expertise to any task.
As a violist, I revered Roger Tapping long before we knew each other here at Juilliard. I grew up listening to his recordings with the Takács Quartet. Whether in the opening Mesto of Bartók’s Sixth Quartet or in the last movement of Beethoven’s Op. 59, No. 3, his expressive range and gorgeous sound always inspired me. When playing chamber music, he had a way of simultaneously leaning back and leaning in, conveying a sense that he was glued to his fellow quartet partners, always listening, always supporting. When I got to know him, I realized that wasn’t just how he played chamber music, it was who he was as a person and as a teacher: always listening, always supporting. I was fortunate to benefit from his brilliant quartet coaching as a summer festival student and have watched over many years how his students flourished. He reinforced their better instincts and gently steered them from habits or ideas that inhibited their artistic expression. As a result, he helped them become the best versions of themselves and not merely copies of someone else.
To those who knew him well, Roger was warm, kind, and generous. But to the broader classical music world, especially the string quartet playing world, he was a legend. Most known for his tenure with the Juilliard and Takács quartets, he also helped found the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and played in the Allegri Quartet, Schubert Ensemble, and Raphael Ensemble. He left an indelible mark as a recording artist for projects that included the Beethoven and Bartok Quartet cycles, and he received three Gramophone awards, a Grammy, and three additional Grammy nominations.
At summer festivals, you could find him most nights in a studio obsessively reading chamber music with students and other faculty. He was a devoted and loving husband to his wife, Natasha, and a doting father to his two girls, Cordelia and Eleanor. An unpretentious outdoorsman, he loved to sail and be in nature. His love of music and life was infectious, and as a result, he profoundly influenced all fortunate enough to have known him. At his memorial on April 20, we will celebrate his extraordinary life and reflect on the countless ways he affected us.
Second-year master’s violist Hannah Burnett (BM ’20)
Roger had this amazing vocabulary to describe the complexities of producing sound, always using words like swirling, tender, searching, and passionate, and he also had this infectious sense of empathy in his playing. He genuinely cared that his students experience life outside the practice room; he often talked to us about current events because he knew it was vital for us to be aware of our social, political, and cultural surroundings so we could go into the world and be upstanding artists and individuals.
One of my favorite Roger memories is from a studio class where I was struggling to play the second movement of Ligeti’s Solo Viola Sonata, “Loop.” Simply executing the technique does not equate to capturing the character of the music, and Roger wanted me to give the movement a jazzy sense of swing and an off-kilter feeling. After I had performed the movement once, he asked me to stand with one foot on a piano bench and one on the ground, so I would feel imbalanced, and then had me perform it again in that stance. I felt utterly ridiculous and we all had a laugh, especially Roger. It’s impossible not to hear his very distinct chuckle as I recall this.
I have been listening to recordings of Roger’s playing (which he would hate—he didn’t believe in idolizing recordings), trying to pinpoint what made his playing so unique. I think he truly showed his soul every time he played, and it permeated every bit of his artistic voice. His warmth and unparalleled curiosity will be missed, and his legacy lives on in everyone lucky enough to have known him.
Catherine Cho (BM ’92, MM ’94; faculty 1996-present)
When I think about Roger, the first word that comes to my mind is joy. I recall his joyful jaunt down the hallway en route to delve into scores with his beloved quartet mates, and we would often cross paths as he was deep in thought about late Beethoven. I could see that Roger lived in and with his cherished high values. Day by day, he embodied his joyful love for life, his love for family, and his love for the art of music.
In our conversations, his quest for truth reflected his continual search for deeper perspectives. Whether we were sharing stories about our kids while riding on a bus in Israel or having a deep dive into our teaching philosophies and challenges after reading chamber music, Roger’s choices and actions revealed the quiet dignity within, and his sparkling sense of humor underlined his joy of being in the moment. He graciously accepted my pet name for Natasha, “our wife,” and shared stories about his children with joy. The trust and respect his students and colleagues experienced were constant, and he gave wisdom generously but with care. His motto: honesty through the lens of kindness.
Although we will miss Roger, his joyful soul shines through the power of his children and partnership, the lasting impact of his artistic voice, and the memories we all carry close by.
First-year master’s student Peter Dudek (BM ’21, viola)
Roger left such an impact on us all through his playing, teaching, and humanity. He was the most kind-hearted, charming individual I’ll ever meet and the most imaginative, spirited, and inspiring violist. His encouraging, hard-working studio became a family to me quickly, and I’ll cherish my moments with him, from studio class and lessons to his heartfelt performances, and warm hellos in the hallway. Thank you for it all, Roger.
Second-year master’s violist Natalie Loughran (BM ’20)
Roger’s gracious energy made our studio a viola family throughout my six years at Juilliard. It was his expectation that we were there to encourage each other to dare greatly and imagine freely. During lessons, Roger bared his heart and soul. The result was a group of musicians inspired to become more sincere and vulnerable humans. He hadn’t had much formal technical training as a young violist, and I think that’s one of the reasons he taught in such a unique way. He led us through the process of discovering our own voices and encouraged us to love every note and sound we make. Many lessons consisted of him demonstrating, not to tell us how to play but rather to show how he was searching for sounds he loved.
During one of the last conversations that I had with Roger, he told me he had found the one word to free any student feeling stuck or caught up in playing the notes. The word was imagine. It’s simple, but it encourages you to enter a world where what you are saying with the music takes precedence. What an impeccable example of this imagination we had right in front of us! Every phrase of Roger’s playing was the definition of imagination, overflowing with life, color and character.
As a chamber music coach, Roger had the ability to teach people how to listen in previously unknown ways and to be more empathetic musicians. He wouldn’t let up if he felt he wasn’t getting 100 percent involvement from each person. It’s so rare to find a person so talented, hard-working, and giving, and yet entirely humble. May we find solace knowing his generous soul will continue to inspire so many.
First-year master’s student Tabitha Rhee (BM ’21, viola)
During the short time I studied with Roger, I was so inspired by his musicianship and the love and support he had for everyone around him. I remember our first meeting, when he bought me coffee and we sat outside and talked about our upcoming time together. I remember the studio picnic in Central Park he organized—I was so touched by how incredibly welcome he made me feel. And the fun time I was walking on Columbus Avenue and suddenly looked up to see Roger on a Citi Bike heading home with his viola on his back. He will forever be in my heart.
Laurie Smukler (BM ’77, violin; faculty 2013-present)
Roger’s enthusiasm for life was palpable and infectious. Being on tour with him, playing piano quartets in China, over Christmas break in 2016, I got to experience Roger firsthand as a musician, colleague, husband, father, and very special human being. His wife, Natasha, was the cellist on the tour. Their two beautiful and brilliant daughters, Cordelia and Eleanor, were traveling with us. It was a time of treasured memories.
It was a rigorous travel tour, with long uncomfortable drives by van in traffic, with a concert in a new city at the end of each drive. Roger was infallibly upbeat in the most uncomfortable of situations. He cheered us all on with his good humor and investigated, while on the road, what sites we might just have enough time to visit, what local food we should eat, or what we could find that was locally made . And once we got to our sound check, his energetic enthusiasm didn’t let up. He was eager to feel and find the radiance of sound possible in the space andtry passages that had not been entirely satisfying in the previous concert. As his colleagues, all of our attempts at creating beauty were met with seriousness, warmth, support and delight. If we had a less than ideal backstage situation, Roger joked and rolled with the punches. It was inspiring. I have a favorite photograph of him resting backstage in a discarded barber chair- his head in the sink! We were all better people, because Roger’s nature was to make us feel capable of it.
The glimpses I witnessed of his relationships with Natasha and their daughters, over that time (and others since) was most affecting. The individual respect, deep love and true interest in each other manifested in all their interactions Their connections and comfort with each other felt both remarkable and exceedingly rare. It was an honor to share time with them as individuals and as a family.
It’s a huge and layered loss, this passing of Roger: for his beloved Natasha, for his cherished daughters, for his family, and for the wide very many whom he touched so personally. I, luckily, was among those many.
Christina Bouey, on behalf of the Ulysses, graduate string quartet in residence
Roger Tapping has made a profound impact on our lives musically and personally. We’re immensely grateful for the time we had with him even though it wasn't nearly enough. Our quartet always felt so excited walking to coachings and extremely alive with the thrilling musical findings we had discovered with him by the coaching’s end. Roger was able to draw on our individuality and help us bring out our own musical voices in life-changing ways. We always felt supported and nurtured by him and will carry his love of chamber music, wise advice, his gorgeous sound, warmth, and friendship to future generations.
Our hearts go out to all who are devastated by this terrible loss. Roger touched so many lives with his teaching, his playing, his dry wit, kindness, and deep artistic integrity. We have lost a brilliant man but his presence and soul we feel will continue to light up the world. Roger, thank you for being you. There is no one like you.
Ara Guzelimian, special advisor to the president, former provost and dean
When Sam Rhodes (faculty 1969-present) announced his intention to retire from the Juilliard String Quartet in 2013 after a remarkable 44-year tenure, there was much speculation as to who could possibly succeed him. The process, of course, was closely held within the privacy of the quartet, but the opportunity allowed the rest of us to imagine possible successors. In one such conversation, Adam Meyer and I found ourselves thinking "what if it were Roger Tapping, wouldn't that be the most wonderful thing?" When the quartet announced their new violist, it felt as if our fondest wishes had come true. I count knowing and working with Roger to be one of the great good fortunes of my life. Roger had enormous integrity, wisdom, warmth, and a quiet strength that he brought to everything he did, musically and personally. I felt better about the world knowing that someone like Roger was in it. I feel his absence deeply but find myself ever grateful for his friendship and his presence in my life.