It is with great sadness that we report the death of Francis Madeira, the founder and first Music Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. Francis passed peacefully Sunday night. He was 100 years old and still an active pianist.
Francis moved to Providence in 1943 to become interim director of orchestras at Brown University; however, his true ambition was to lead a professional symphony orchestra. He discovered that Rhode Island lacked such an ensemble and quickly brought together a coalition of community leaders to found the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, which gave its first concert in 1945. Francis was Music Director for 33 years, retiring in 1978. Along with important board members, donors, and the Orchestra’s first professional manager, Muriel Stevens, Francis built an enduring institution that continues to impact our community to this day.
Francis and the Orchestra toured across our small state countless times, giving performances in Westerly, Kingston, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Newport, and of course, Providence. He brought some of the leading musicians of the time to Rhode Island, including Gary Graffman, Claudio Arrau, Isaac Stern, Leon Fleisher, Jaime Laredo, and his wife, Metropolitan Opera star Jean Madeira. Francis also began the education programs that have become such an important part of the Philharmonic, founding our Youth Orchestra and Education Concerts in the 1950s.
The work was not easy. Finding the funds to bring the beauty of orchestra music to audiences across Rhode Island, and music learning opportunities to youth was a tremendous challenge. Building a credible professional orchestra in the smallest state in the union was an uphill battle. But, it is a battle that Francis relished.
The RI Philharmonic is grateful to Francis for his passion for music, his belief in music education, and his remarkable ability to draw people to his vision for the Orchestra and our community. We will miss his phone calls and letters, his sage advice, his indomitable spirit, and his friendship.
A funeral service will be held at St. Luke’s Cathedral, State Street, Portland, ME at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. His full obituary can be found here.