Obituary: Richard M. Holland / Violist for PSO and motorcycle enthusiast

Dec. 5, 1944 - Sept. 14, 2013

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He was a motorcyclist and a violist. A coffee connoisseur and a world traveler. A storyteller, straight-talker and backgammon lover.

Richard M. Holland was nothing if not eclectic.

And when he did things, he didn't just scratch the surface. Mr. Holland played viola for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1972 until his retirement in 2006. His daughter, Jennifer, recalled hearing about his audition for the PSO.

"They asked him to play a tune, and he was able to play four notes with one movement of the bow," Ms. Holland, who lives in Maryland, said.

At that moment, "they just said, 'hire that man,' " she said.

Mr. Holland passed away in his home in Wilkinsburg on Sept. 14. He was 68.

In addition to Ms. Holland, he is survived by his son Nathan, who lives in Maryland; his brother Steve, who lives in California; and one grandson.

A memorial service will be held on Oct. 12 at 2 p.m. in the Forest Hills-Westinghouse Lodge in Forest Hills.

Born on Dec. 5, 1944, in Yonkers, N.Y., Mr. Holland grew up on a chicken farm in New Hampshire and studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston and the New School of Music in Philadelphia. Playing the viola led him to a spot in the United States Air Force Strolling Strings, through which he was able to travel across the world and perform in front of several world leaders.

"He said he took a trip to Tehran to play for the Shah of Iran. He went all over the place. I mean, he took a thousand trips ... just to play a salad course for some diplomat somewhere," said Paul DeChancie, a freelance percussionist who became close friends with Mr. Holland by playing and touring with the PSO during the 1980s and 1990s.

Mr. Holland's travels did not end after he joined the PSO. As a motorcycle enthusiast, he took trips all over North America, to places as far as Mexico and Alaska. His home region of New England, though, was his favorite destination.

Mr. DeChancie joined him on some of those excursions. On one trip to Casco Bay in Maine, Mr. Holland turned on his motorcycle so the engine would heat up. Then, the pair dug up clams, warmed them up on the cylinders, split them open with a knife, and ate them raw.

"He was a clever guy, he liked to have a lot of fun, and was just very interesting to talk to," Mr. DeChancie said.

Mr. Holland was also not afraid to speak his mind. This became eminently evident on the PSO tour to the former Soviet Union in 1989. A hard floor covered with thin carpeting gave Mr. Holland shin splints in one hotel, so he tried to walk off the pain in the middle of the night.

"As he told the story, this uniformed officer with an AK-47 stopped him and asked him for his passport. He told the officer what to do with his AK-47." Mr. DeChancie said.

"Apparently, [the officer] said, 'OK,' " he added.

On another occasion, Mr. Holland, a coffee enthusiast, decided to go to the root of the coffee-making process.

"He tried to roast his own beans until somebody called the fire department, because roasting coffee beans doesn't smell very good," said Mr. DeChancie, adding, "He was a perfectionist in making a cup of coffee."

Then again, it wasn't just coffee.

"He was an all or nothing kind of guy. It was either everything or nothing, no in between," Mr. DeChancie said.


Elizabeth Bloom: or 412-263-1750.


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