Everett Firth

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FIRTH Everett Firth, “Heartbeat of the Boston Symphony Orchestra”, Dies at 85. Everett J. Firth, former principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and founder of Vic Firth Inc., died July 26 from pancreatic cancer. He was 85. Born June 2, 1930, in Winchester MA, and raised in Maine, Everett “Vic” Firth was the son of Everett E. and Rosemary Firth. His father was a successful trumpet and cornet player who started young Vic on the instrument when he was only four. By the time he was in high school, he had gravitated full-time to percussion, studying with the legendary George Lawrence Stone. By the age of sixteen he was actively pursuing a career as the leader of his own 18-piece big band, playing vibes and drum set throughout the New England area. Upon graduating from high school, Firth attended the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with Roman Szulc, then timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his studies in Boston, Firth made biweekly trips to New York City in order to study with Saul Goodman, timpanist of the New York Philharmonic. When Szulc retired from the BSO and auditions were held for the position, Firth was selected for the job. At age twenty-one, he was the youngest member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Everett served for 50 years as timpanist and head of the percussion section, playing for music directors Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg and Seiji Ozawa. This period was the Golden Age of symphonic conductors, and Firth played for all the greats from Koussevitzky, Stokowsky, Ormandy, Barbirolli, Haitink, Bernstein, Colin Davis, Abbado, Mazur through Simon Rattle. Everett retired from the BSO in 2002, the same year as Ozawa. "Vic was quite simply the consummate artist," reflected Ozawa. "I believe he was the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world. Every performance that Vic gave was informed with incredible musicianship, elegance and impeccable timing.” Firth's teaching career at the New England Conservatory began before he graduated, first in the preparatory department, then as head of the percussion department, a position he held from 1950 - 1994. He has guided numerous gifted students through their education, not only at the Conservatory, but also at the Berkshire Music Center/Tanglewood, summer home of the BSO. Percussion students who have studied with Firth hold key positions throughout the world. Always hesitant to mention outstanding pupils, he fondly recalled a class on percussion techniques for a Copland seminar that included three young conductors - Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta and Seiji Ozawa. He received an honorary doctorate from the school in 1992. Unsatisfied with the drumsticks available during his early years, Firth, like many percussionists, began making his own. What began in 1963 as a basement operation from his home expanded into a corporation with over 100 employees to handle the manufacture and worldwide sales of his sticks. Vic Firth Company is now the largest and leading manufacturer of drumsticks and mallets in the world, known for its excellence in quality and design. Vic also took great pride that his products were manufactured in America. Although most young percussionists are familiar with the name Firth because of his sticks and mallets, many promising students first encounter Firth's musical substance through his numerous compositions and etudes. Encore in Jazz is a staple of the percussion ensemble repertoire, and his The Solo Timpanist etude book has set the standard for audition material at the all-state or college entry level. An enthusiastic sportsman, Vic traveled from Alaska to South America but preferred his native state of Maine and the Atlantic coast for boating and fishing. He is survived by his wife, Olga of Dover, daughters Kelly DeChristopher of Scituate and Tracy Firth of Walpole; and sister Sherrill Auld of Edgewater MD.

Published in Boston Herald on July 30, 2015
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