WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2006-03 > 1141993345
From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: KATIMS: Milton Katims--d.27/2/2006>USA
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 2006 12:22:25 -0000
The Daily Telegraph and the telegraph.co.uk
Milton Katims, who has died aged 96, transformed what Sir Thomas Beecham
warned was becoming the "aesthetic dustbin" of Seattle in Washington state;
in particular, he turned its symphony orchestra into a major international
For more than 20 years Katims championed not just the orchestra but all
manner of artistic endeavour, becoming indelibly associated with civic life.
On one occasion his photograph - a baton duly raised - adorned the cover of
the Seattle telephone directory.
As early as the 1950s Katims introduced "community concerts", taking the
Seattle Symphony Orchestra out to places it had never visited before,
including school halls and churches. He invited young people to see the
workings of the orchestra from the inside, and introduced "multi-media"
effects, with slides of paintings projected behind the musicians, and
dancers appearing on stage with the musicians.
Under his auspices the orchestra became fully professional and invited
soloists such as Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who would
never previously have entertained such an engagement.
Katims also championed a new concert hall (now the McCall Hall), at the
opening of which in 1962 he shared the podium with Igor Stravinsky and
Robert Craft. Van Cliburn - fresh from his success in Moscow four years
earlier -was the piano soloist.
The heavy influence of his mentor, Arturo Toscanini, was clear for all to
see. Katims had begun his professional life leading Toscanini's viola
section at the NBC Symphony Orchestra before progressing to assistant
conductor and finally to his own band in Seattle. He even used one of
Toscanini's batons to conduct.
Katims was a tireless champion of the orchestra, actively and
enthusiastically taking part in fund-raising events and insisting that
business had as great a duty as the taxpayer to support the arts. When one
Seattle businessman declined to offer help because he never attended
concerts, Katims retorted: "You help the jails. When were you last in jail?"
His experience as a viola player, he said, set him in good stead as a
conductor. "Wielding the baton you may deceive the undiscerning listener,"
he told the New York Times in 1950. "But you cannot mislead the men playing
for you. Since I work on both sides of the podium, I know that winning the
players' respect and approval is of the utmost importance."
Milton Katims was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 24 1909, but his
heritage was decidedly European. A premature baby weighing just 3lbs, he was
not expected to live. When his father, Harry, had arrived in New York from
Russia at the age of 12, an immigration official at Ellis Island decreed
that the name Katimsky was too foreign and too long, so he became Katims.
His mother, Caroline Spiegel, was of Austro-Hungarian parentage, and a keen
musician who took her three sons and daughters to concerts. Katims was seven
when he first met Toscanini, asking for the conductor's autograph.
He studied Psychology at Columbia University, but in the 1930s began to
pursue music seriously, taking lessons with Leon Barzin, who advised him to
switch from violin to viola. He joined the NBC Orchestra in succession to
William Primrose in 1943.
As early as 1940 he had featured in Living Musicians, an American book that
tipped the names of those to watch in the future. Before long he was
discussing the art of conducting with Toscanini, who invited Katims to
become his assistant.
Between his hectic round of conducting engagements at Seattle, Katims never
neglected his viola. He was a guest artist with the Budapest String Quartet,
gave the premiere in 1952 of Morton Gould's viola concerto, and took part in
the Prades Festival with Pablo Casals.
But eventually the time came for a change at Seattle. By the mid-1970s both
the management and the musicians of the orchestra wanted a new musical
director, and their feelings were increasingly being reflected at the box
Despite a campaign by his supporters, Katims left in 1976 and soon
afterwards turned up at the University of Houston in Texas, where he taught,
edited music and continued to inspire young musicians.
Ten years later he retired to the city where he had made his name, and 16
years after leaving was back on the podium of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra
as guest conductor, the manner of his departure long since forgiven.
Katims, who died on February 27, was active into his old age, playing both
the viola and tennis until recently. He claimed to be perplexed about his
longevity. "I don't even buy green bananas," he said.
He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Virginia Peterson, with whom last
year he wrote The Pleasure Was Ours, a collection of musical reminiscences
and anecdotes that ended with the sentence: "Who could have been more
fortunate than we have been?" He also leaves a son and a daughter.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2006.