Marshall Fine's Obituary
By John Beifuss / Memphis Commercial Appeal
Whether dazzling visiting adults with youthful piano impressions of Wagner, enchanting listeners for decades as a viola player with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra or testing the patience of a traffic court judge with claims that the safety of his musical instrument should take precedence over the rules of the road, classical musician Marshall Fine was one of Memphis’ most distinctive performers on any stage.
Described by friends and colleagues as an often intense yet generous “genius” and “walking encyclopedia of music,” Mr. Fine was a musician, conductor, arranger, teacher and composer of more than 220 works, including sonatas, concertos and symphonies. A viola player with the symphony since 1980, Mr. Fine played with the IRIS Orchestra, the Memphis Repertory Orchestra and just about any group that would give him an opportunity to share the music he loved.
Mr. Fine, 57, died Thursday at University of Louisville Hospital, where he was airlifted in critical condition following an Aug. 7 traffic accident near Horse Cave, Ky. At the time of the wreck, he was returning to Memphis after visiting his mother, June Fine, in Newton, Massachusetts.
Diagnosed as autistic as a young man, Mr. Fine last year began working on a project with the Autism Society of the Mid-South, inspired by his experience that music is a particularly appealing learning vehicle for kids with autism.
He also was a frequent participant in various projects that brought classical-style music to new audiences in unusual venues. He played during recent concert salutes to legendary Memphis power-pop band Big Star; created string interpretations of songs by Elvis and the Beatles; and arranged King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” for a performance by the symphony orchestra’s Opus One ensemble. Working with the songs “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Third Stone from the Sun,” he composed a “Hendrix Suite” that Opus One performed in 2010 at the old Hi-Tone Café, during a show in which the ensemble also accompanied Harlan T. Bobo.
Symphony cellist Jonathan Kirkscey said Mr. Fine didn’t simply arrange popular music for strings: He interpreted the songs, making these performances into what might be called classical “cover versions.”
Born into an erudite musical family, Mr. Fine was the son of Burton Fine, a violist for more than 40 years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Adept at an early age, he studied music at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Michigan and the University of Memphis, where he received a doctorate.
“What made him memorable was the depth and breadth of his knowledge of music, and his intense personal desire from his childhood on to succeed,” said Burton Fine, 84, in a phone interview from his home in Newton. “He did magnificent things, in spite of his handicap,” he said, referring to his son’s autism.
“Marshall would be able to stop in the middle of a rehearsal and call out, ‘I think I heard a missed note’ in a particular section,” said Jordan Stephens, executive director of the Memphis Repertory Orchestra. “Who could do that? It was amazing.”
One of Mr. Fine’s more publicized performances didn’t take place on a concert stage. In 2007, Mr. Fine, armed with a report from the National Climactic Data Center, argued in Germantown Municipal Court that he should not be fined for running a red light because if he had made a quick stop on the rain-slick pavement, the movement might have caused damage to his viola inside the car. The judge rejected the argument, leaving Mr. Fine to fume to a reporter that the judge favored “procedure over substance.”