George Dreyfus, 97, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra for nearly a half-century, died July 22 in Sarasota, Fla. Mr. Dreyfus had lived in Pennsauken and Cherry Hill before his retirement from the orchestra in 2001.
Boston-born to immigrant Jewish parents from Eastern Europe, he was started on violin by an aunt who, with her husband, founded a community music school in Boston for children from working-class families.
Mr. Dreyfus studied with both an aunt and uncle, Sarah and Linwood Scriven, and participated in the summer orchestral program at Tanglewood. He played in the Boston Pops Orchestra before being drafted into the U.S. Army in World War II, reaching the rank of master sergeant. After military service, he married mezzo-soprano Rita Gibson, and the couple moved to Washington, where he played with the National Symphony Orchestra starting in 1948.
He joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1953 and was often the first person onstage before a performance, son Laurence Dreyfus said.
Mr. Dreyfus was “at the center of the players’ labor activism during contentious years of disputes” in the 1960s, his son said, which resulted in a long strike and, eventually, a 52-week contract. By the time of his retirement, he’d played under Stokowski, Ormandy, Muti, and his “personal favorite,” Wolfgang Sawallisch.
Fellow violinist and retired orchestra member Larry Grika called Mr. Dreyfus an “excellent musician” and “a kind, fine, and refined good soul.”
He founded and conducted a weekly community orchestra at a Jewish Community Center, taught violin to local students, and supported Camerata Opera Theater, founded and directed by his wife to bring professionally staged opera performances to schools and senior residences in the area.
In addition to his wife and son Laurence, a viol player and musicologist, Mr. Dreyfus is survived by a daughter, violist Karen Dreyfus; son Daniel Dreyfus; five grandchildren; and sister Ethel Tumim. The funeral at Sarasota National Cemetery was private. Donations in his name may be made to Settlement Music School, 416 Queen St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19147.