A celebration of life will be held Saturday, June 23, for Lydia Walton Ignacio Russo, 87, of Broomall, a piano teacher and prizewinning concert pianist who died Tuesday, April 24, of complications from a stroke at Crozer–Chester Medical Center.
Mrs. Russo was born in the Philippines in 1931, and it was clear from an early age that she was a musical prodigy. As a college freshman, she won first prize in the National Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. The competition was open to budding pianists from throughout the nation of islands.
At the time of the competition, the Manila Times wrote that Mrs. Russo "gave an inspired rendition of the Tchaikovsky Concerto" and called her "a talent of considerable promise."
She attended the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music in Manila, where she earned a bachelor's degree in music. While there, she represented the school in numerous recitals, including a performance, soon after graduating, with the Manila Symphony Orchestra.
While she was in her early 20s, Mrs. Russo received a scholarship from the Music Foundation of the Philippines to study abroad. At the same time, she received a scholarship from the Peabody Institute, a music conservatory in Baltimore. She enrolled there in 1959, and studied with the renowned pianists Mieczysław Munz and Leon Fleisher.
In 1961, Mrs. Russo earned a master's degree in music from Peabody, as well as the artist diploma, which is advanced training for unusually gifted and accomplished performers. She was awarded the institute's Lillian Gutman Memorial Prize for excellence in piano performance.
"The artist diploma is really regarded among musicians as being higher than a Ph.D.," said John Russo, Mrs. Russo's husband, a composer and a clarinetist.
After graduating, she taught classes at various times at the Peabody Institute, Combs College of Music, Rosemont College, Rutgers University, and Widener University.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she was known for providing piano accompaniment to the Pennsylvania Ballet Company Orchestra for 18 years, and she also played for the dance classes at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland.
She performed as a soloist for chamber music groups throughout the United States and abroad.
Her performances were recorded on labels including VOX, Candide, Capra, Crystal, Contemporary Recording Studios, Orion Records, and Contemporary Record Society Inc. In the recordings, she can be heard playing with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, as well as faculty members from Temple University, the Juilliard School of Music, and the Manhattan School of Music.
Her recordings sometimes featured chamber music with her husband. The couple performed at concerts throughout the United States, Europe, and the Far East.
On Dec 2, 1979, the New York Times surveyed then-current clarinet recitals.
"Sonatas by the 16‐year‐old Mendelssohn and the indefatigable Max Reger occupy John Russo on a new Crystal disk," the newspaper wrote. "Mr. Russo and his accompanist, Lydia Walton Ignacio, shape these large‐scale pieces pliantly yet firmly."
Music critic Daniel Webster wrote in the Oct. 26, 1997, Inquirer that the couple were "among the most prolific CD makers."
"They promote new music and use their discs to buoy their independent performing careers," he wrote.
Mrs. Russo retired 12 years ago after she was involved in a serious auto accident. When not teaching or playing the piano, she enjoyed family life.
The Russos married in 1964. They lived in West Philadelphia, Lansdowne, and Glenolden before settling in Broomall.
Besides her husband, Mrs. Russo is survived by a daughter, Melissa Anne, and a son, Ignatius, known as "Nate."