Monday, February 27, 2006

Milton Katims 1909-2006

It was sad but not unexpected to receive a phone call today about our dear friend Milton Katims having passed away. My wife had talked to him just recently on the phone and between bites of food he commented that old age had finally caught up with him. We went to visit him five days ago but he was in deep sleep and neither of us had the heart to awaken him. We just spent a good amount of time watching him, guessing that this might be the last time we would see him. Having been born as a preemie, weighing only three pounds at birth, he again resembled a helpless baby. Life is indeed a circle.

What an amazing man and an artist Milton was. I had heard recordings of his playing since my childhood and automatically placed him in the class of William Primrose. During our years in Seattle we became friends and always admired his knowledge of music, intellect and marvelous sense of humor. In spite of being well into his 90s, his mind was still razor sharp and he could tell an endless amount of fascinating stories. Exactly a year ago the Northwest Chamber Orchestra had honored him during Bacchanalia, their yearly fundraising auction. We sat at the same table and watched him absolutely glow from the attention he was getting. Recently we viewed a video taken at a home concert on Mother’s Day in 1992 where he and my then-pregnant wife were playing duos for violin and viola. Even in his eighties his fingers were moving at an amazing speed and accuracy and his immaculate musicianship was present constantly. The surroundings both made him relax and inspired, as his living room was filled with friends and admirers.

We have an old book titled ‘Living Musicians’ printed in 1940, and Milton is featured in it as a young but already very accomplished violist and conductor. He worked closely with Toscanini and he relished opportunities to reminisce about these experiences. Seattle was fortunate to have had him as their orchestra’s music director for many years. Naturally, in such a situation one makes both friends and foes, and not everyone showed him the respect and admiration he well deserved after returning here in later years. I remember a time when I had to help Milton to have backstage access when some eager managerial person wouldn’t allow him through, as his name wasn’t on the ‘guest list’. Even in post 9-11 atmosphere I doubt the old maestro posed much of a security risk.

On a personal note, I shall never forget all the genuine support Milton gave me during my difficult period in this town. He will always live in my heart as a tremendous source of inspiration and courage, and as an example of the kind of person a great artist and musician should be.

Milton, you will be missed but never forgotten.