Alexander Frank Ruggieri was a man of talent, passion and presence. With a keen mind, a sincere and abiding love of great music, and a booming bass voice, he was an imposing figure that housed sharp wit and a kind heart. He was well-known in Southern California and well beyond, as his tenacity and deep knowledge of choral repertoire made him a sought-after conductor, coach and author. An award-winning composer, Alex was a man of many diverse passions, reading extensively and fostering interests in film, literature, science, history, sports and travel, as well as the performing arts. (The photo at right shows him and Jamie Martin, Alex’s significant other of eight years and also a Lister, hot air ballooning in Nov. 2011.)
An excellent singer as well as conductor, Alex did a great deal to support his singing colleagues, creating and building several choirs across the Southland, nurturing young soloists, and through his activities with ACDA, Chorus America, Lauri’s List, Opera a la Carte, and of course, choral organizations including the Orthodox Concert Choir of Los Angeles, which he founded at age 24, the Pasadena Classical Singers (née the Cambridge Singers of Pasadena), and most recently the University Campus Choir (based out of UCLA) and the San Gabriel Valley Choral Company. He performed, wrote and recorded extensively, and was a noted authority on Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil and Orthodox Christian music in particular. Alex was always close to the church, and it influenced his life and work in many ways. (See his full bio for more extensive career details.) Even through his long battle with cancer, Alex continued to work and conduct, performing his last concert of Brahms’ “A German Requiem” to a packed audience in Westwood on June 10, including his mother, Ludmilla, and his sister, Irene.
Alex passed away Saturday evening, July 21, surrounded by loved ones. He was 60 years old. His funeral took place at Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Los Angeles, with a Panikhida memorial on Tuesday night and the funeral service on Wednesday morning, officiated by Father Elias, an Orthodox priest who is also Alex’s brother-in-law. More than 140 mourners were in attendance, and thanks to a live broadcast made available online by the church, that number was nearly doubled by those who “attended” by viewing the live feed — the videos will be archived on the site for a short time.
The service was a sober one, in the Orthodox tradition, as the minister’s sermon reminded the congregation of God’s love along life’s journey of great sorrow and great joy, and that “through his musical gifts, [Alex] gave us an opportunity to know God.” The church was filled with friends and family, and many of Alex’s musical colleagues arrived early to form a choir for the occasion, singing polyphonic chants and hymns throughout the service, interspersed with a mostly sung liturgy. With incense, resplendent vestments and many candles, the traditional service seemed an expression of Alex himself, with a reverence for church and music that evoked grand themes of faith, art and love:
Let us sing a song of victory.
Deliver up, Lord, the soul of thy servant, who has fallen asleep.
Come, let us give the last kiss unto the dead.
This, of course, is just a brief overview of a complex life and Alex’s major impact on the singing world. A more detailed biography is available here, on the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. Memorial donations may be offered there as well, and are encouraged.