Monday, April 17, 2006

Uncle Milton Once More

There were at least two wonderful and interesting obituaries of Milton Katims on the other side of the Atlantic, in the Guardian and the Telegraph. Both are worth reading and they talk about Milton's peaks and pitfalls in Seattle. A person may no longer be with us, but his words and music still live.

Here is a copy of a letter Milton wrote a year ago and wanted it published. Somehow it had accidentally disappeared from my blog. In the letter Milton explicitly defines the role of a concertmaster which may appear quite different from what one reads in the dailies. Milton was a musician and string player par excellence, and as such he surely knew what he was talking about.

May 6, 2005

Dear Margie & Ilka,

During the very early period of your problems with the [...] there was a good deal of newspaper coverage which I read with understandable interest. One particular aspect caught my attention, a point of view with which I disagree in no uncertain terms. I’m referring to the description of a concertmaster’s vital role as builder and molder of an orchestra’s character.

I thoroughly disagree! The concertmaster, in my opinion, plays an important, but secondary role. It is the conductor who wields the power and bears full responsibility for the shape and sound of an orchestra. It [is] the conductor’s musical concepts and his/her ability to translate those mental images so clearly into semaphoric signals with the baton that the members of the orchestra understand and produce the desired effect.

The concertmaster helps by providing a standard of string playing excellence, is capable of appearing as soloist with the orchestra, illustrating and clarifying where needed the conductor’s idea of a phrase, suggesting appropriate bowings, and with the help of the first oboe making sure that the orchestra is tunes before the conductor walks on-stage. Etc. Etc. Etc..

In my estimation you (Ilka) do fulfill the above description of the responsibilities of concertmaster of a first rate symphony orchestra. If I were the music director of such a group I would engage you. More — I cannot say.

With admiration


Milton Katims