Luis Biava, beloved violinist and teacher at Temple, dies at 85

Temple music professor and orchestra conductor Luis Biava irehearses with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra on March 20, 2014, shortly before his retirement.  (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Temple music professor and orchestra conductor Luis Biava irehearses with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra on March 20, 2014, shortly before his retirement. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A beloved Philadelphia musician and teacher died this week. Luis Biava, 85, was the director of the Temple University Symphony Orchestra for decades, transforming it into a powerhouse ensemble that launched the careers of many students.

He also played violin for many years with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and he was a frequent guest conductor.

Biava grew up in Colombia, where both of his parents were musicians. It was inevitable that he would play, too.

“I was going to study cello, but a colleague of my father told my father, ‘He’s too fat,’” said Biava in 2014. “I was 8 years old. ‘He’s too fat, he should play cello because you play sitting.’ I wanted that violin! I was gordito, but I studied violin. That is the instrument I wanted.”

Biava arrived in the United States in the 1960s and landed a seat in the Philadelphia Orchestra. He started teaching violin at Temple, ultimately taking over the orchestra — never losing his firm hand nor his thick Spanish accent. Even after decades of teaching, he still searched for the right words in English to explain what he wanted his students to do.

Upon his retirement in 2014, he said teaching was one of his most satisfying accomplishments.

“Teaching is something so beautiful. To give them secrets about bow arm, sound, musicality,” he said. “Music is – how you say? – infinita in Spanish. It never ends. It never ends.”

After retiring, Biava moved to Florida, where he died Monday.

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