Ralph Farris (born Ralph Howard Farris, Jr., 1970) is an American violist, violinist, composer, arranger, producer and conductor, best known in the genre of new music as a founding member and artistic director of the string quartet ETHEL.
Farris was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970, the son of musicians, Nancy DuCette Farris and Ralph Howard Farris. He began studying music at the age of 3, beginning with recorder and piano, moving on to violin at age six. As a boy soprano, he was featured as a soloist in several of his parents' Ralph Farris Chorale productions, including Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Pie Jesu from Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, and in the title role of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors.
From 1976 to 1982 Farris attended the Longy School of Music and was a member of the New England Conservatory of Music's Youth Philharmonic Orchestra under Benjamin Zander from 1982 to 1989. In 1983 Farris entered Walnut Hill School for the Arts, where he graduated in 1989. Between 1989 and 1991 Farris was a three-year recipient of a Tanglewood Fellowship, where he won both most outstanding violist and most outstanding participant. He participated in the Spoleto Festival USA/Festival dei Due Mondi in 1992. In 1995 he attended Dartington International Summer School, in the conducting program under the tutelage of Maestro Diego Masson. Farris holds B.M. and M.M. degrees (accelerated program) from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Samuel Rhodes, graduating in 1994. He was awarded the school's William Schuman Prize in 1994.
As the principal violist of The Juilliard Orchestra, Farris performed at Carnegie Hall in Roger Daltrey's 1994 A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who and became the Musical Director for the tour of the same name. He played the fiddle solo in Baba O'Riley. Farris is an original member of the orchestra Broadway production of The Lion King, playing violin and viola, and has served as an assistant conductor for the show. He has recorded with and/or arranged for a wide variety of well known jazz, classical, rock and country musicians. With his string quartet he tours extensively and has performed on the stages of several major international concert halls. He has worked as music supervisor, acting coach, and contractor for luminaries in the diverse industries of film, dance and music, including; Martin Scorsese, Merce Cunningham and Gorillaz.
Farris has shown a keen interest in arts education. Through ETHEL's Foundation for the Arts, founded by the quartet in 2002, he has taught master classes at numerous universities and music conservatories. In 2007 he recorded a segment for New York's WNYC about his experience working with young composers in the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project (NACAP), an outreach program in which ETHEL has been an artist-in-residence since 2005. NACAP is a 2011 semi-finalist for the President's Council on the Arts and the Humanities Coming up Taller Award. In 2010 and 2011, he was a guest composer with the Eastport Strings, a youth ensemble in Eastport, Maine, hometown to Farris's grandfather. He is a frequent lecturer at Juilliard and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of his alma mater Walnut Hill.
Farris was the lead coordinator of the volunteer musicians who performed daily at New York City's St. Paul's Chapel ("The Miracle Church") during the 9/11 Relief Effort. In December 2001, he conducted a group of Broadway actors and singers in a radio simulcast of holiday songs at Ground Zero and Times Square. His string quartet arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner was performed at the World Trade Center site on the one-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks by the St. Paul's Chapel String Quartet and was internationally televised. The WNYC program Soundcheck featured Farris as one of four guests for a project called Measuring Time: Music for 9/11/11 marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
One of Farris's current projects is the setting of several works by the poet Harry Smith to music. The first of these pieces, Solstice People, was featured in the 2007 In the House of ETHEL: Solstice concert at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden.
He lives in New York City.
- AllMusic Credits 
- ETHEL bio 
- String Quartet Brings New Work in the Making to MASS MoCA, MASS MoCA Press Release, May 12, 2004