Remembering Charles ‘Chas’ Wetherbee

Irvin Coffee/Colorado Public Radio
Charles “Chas” Wetherbee plays Massenet’s Meditation from Thais” in the CPR Performance Studio.

Colorado’s musical community received devastating news this week: violinist Charles Wetherbee died from cancer in the early hours of January 9. The Boulder Philharmonic concertmaster was 56.

Charles Wetherbee, or “Chas” as he was known, debuted at age six with his hometown orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic, under conductor Symon Bychkov. He toured the world as a soloist, a founding member of of the Grammy-nominated Carpe Diem String Quartet, and as a member of orchestras such as the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra of Bogota, Japan Philharmonic and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico. Wetherbee was Principal Second Violin with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C. for five years before becoming concertmaster of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for 16 years.

Since 2012, Wetherbee has served as associate professor of violin at the University of Colorado Boulder. He was an alumnus of the National Repertory Orchestra, ran the Snake River Music Festival in Dillon, Colo. for many years and became Concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic in 2014. 

“We have lost one of our most beloved colleagues, and we send our condolences to his family, friends, and students,” said the Boulder Philharmonic in a statement. “His warmth, enthusiasm, and passion for music will forever be remembered and missed by all of us at the Boulder Phil.”

Wetherbee was scheduled to play Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Boulder Philharmonic on January 22. That concert is now scheduled to be dedicated to Wetherbee.

READ: The Boulder Philharmonic just lost one of its own. Now, they are dedicating a special concert to him

This news comes after Wetherbee’s years-long battle with renal cell carcinoma, first diagnosed in 2018. Since December 2022, many in his community have stayed closely updated on his condition through a regularly updated GoFundMe page run by fellow Carpe Diem Quartet violinist and composer Korine Fujiwara. Since his passing, many are sharing stories and condolences through this page.

“He was such a generous musician and collaborator," longtime CU Boulder colleague, pianist and faculty member David Korevaar told CPR Classical. "Well beyond the sheer beauty of his playing and the sheer accomplishment of his playing, it was his ability to be really present with whomever he was playing, and also with his audience.”

The pair met around 12 years ago. “Even here at the end, he was still devoted to his students at the university this last fall when it was hard for him to keep going. And he just kept going somehow. The state has lost somebody who really had made himself a part of the musical fabric of Colorado for many years,” said Korevaar.

“His presence was transformative,” Boulder Philharmonic Music Director Michael Butterman stated in a Facebook post remembering Wetherbee. “Chas brought out the best in everyone by modeling technical and artistic excellence, combined with professionalism and a deep devotion to the cause of sharing music widely and expanding the reach of classical music. Most important, he radiated generosity, kindness and a selfless spirit that anyone in his presence could feel. The impact of his legacy is impossible to overstate.”

Wetherbee leaves behind three children and his wife, Karina. The couple first met in Summit County, Colorado, where they ran a music camp together for youth called Scale the Summit. “His life's work was a symphony, of the most grand and sweeping and lyrical beauty,” said Karina. “Each note of that music was made up of all the millions of interactions he had with every person.”

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