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J. Reilly Lewis, Washington Metro Area Concertmaster and Organist, Dies at 71

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Jun 14, 2016 10:06 AM EDT | Philip Trapp

Hanging Violins

24th July 1959: Violins hung out in the open air to get brown, at the school for manufacturing violins, the Geigenbauschule Mittenwald in Germany. (Photo : Keystone/Getty Images)

Washington, D.C. metro area concertmaster and organist J. Reilly Lewis died on Thursday, June 9, at his home in Arlington, Virginia.

Lewis, a prominent authority on Bach, founded the Washington Bach Consort and served as music leader at Clarendon United Methodist Church for over 40 years.

Also music director of the Cathedral Choral Society, Reilly was a one of the most important musicians in the Washington classical music scene. In a statement released by, the Washington Bach Consort described the conductor's affable demeanor:

"Reilly was such a wonderful, special person, but only his love of each of you surpassed his love of Bach and great music," the Washington Bach Consort said in a statement. "He was our leader, our center. Reilly was our friend."

Lewis began singing in the Washington National Cathedral's Junior Boys Choir at the age of 8. He was educated at Oberlin Conservatory and received his master's and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School of Music.

The Washington Bach Consort and Cathedral Choral Society released a joint statement concerning Reilly's death on Friday at the latter's website:

"No matter how successful we became, no matter how many awards we received, or where we toured, what mattered most to Reilly was the music," said Bach Consort Executive Director, Marc Eisenberg. "As our organization grew, Reilly developed deep connections with people. It was the music that started these relationships, but it was Reilly who sustained these incredible friendships. For Reilly, his work with the Bach Consort wasn't a job, it was his passion and pleasure."

The cause of death was initially suspected as a heart attack, later confirmed by a spokeswoman for the choral society, Margaret Shannon, as sudden cardiac arrest. Reilly is survived by his wife of 18 years, Beth, one daughter and a grandson.

Below, watch Reilly's seasoned performance of Bach's Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her" ("From Heaven Above to Earth I Come"):

We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think of the above performance from Dr. Reilly in the comments section.

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