Joseph Primavera, leader of Phila. Youth Orchestra

Posted: October 19, 2006

Joseph Primavera, 80, music director of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra for 51 years, died of lung cancer Saturday at home in Upper Darby.

The son of a violin maker who grew up in South Philadelphia, he was exposed to great music early and by the age of 6 began formal studies under noted local violinists Guido and Joseph Terranova, and later with Sacha Jacobinoff.

By the time he graduated from Central High School in 1943, he had earned enough college credits to graduate with a bachelor's degree in music. The following year, he joined the Navy and continued his studies at the Navy School of Music in Washington. Before being discharged in 1946, he was assigned to play in the bands on the USS Philadelphia and the USS Missouri.

Mr. Primavera returned to Philadelphia and took private lessons under William F. Happich, professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania. He then studied with Frank Costanzo, first violist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and trained in conducting and chamber music with the Curtis Quartet.

Eager to get on with his career and raise a family by the time he was 23, Mr. Primavera put down the violin and applied to play the viola with the Baltimore Symphony.

After a year in Baltimore, he returned to Philadelphia, becoming in 1950 the youngest first violist in the history of the Philadelphia Orchestra. While playing with the orchestra, he became music director and conductor of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra in 1954. His mammoth schedule also included conducting four orchestras, giving private lessons, and teaching at several music and public schools. He received a bachelor's of music in conducting in 1967 from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia.

In 1968, he retired from the Philadelphia Orchestra to teach the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra full time.

"Joe always put the Youth Orchestra first in his career," said Louis Scaglione, president and music director of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. "He had the ability to have an international career, but he chose to devote his life to educating the next generation of great musicians."

"My father had a great passion for life, music and teaching," said his son Carl. "He shared this great passion with his students. He brought home his excitement and passion. He enjoyed life."

Each year, about 240 students from Delaware Valley schools audition for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. About 80 are chosen for the companion Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra and 100 are chosen for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.

They study for four years, perform each year at the Academy of Music, and go on tour here and abroad. The mandatory retirement age is 21 and the minimum age is 10. Many go on to positions with major orchestras.

Mr. Primavera retired in 2005.

In addition to his son Carl, Mr. Primavera is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marie Piccoli Primavera; another son, Joseph Primavera III; and a grandson.

Services and burial were private.

Donations may be made to the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Box 41810, Philadelphia 19101-1810.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or

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