Remembering Toby Saks

Aug 5, 2013

Acclaimed cellist Toby Saks led the Seattle Chamber Music Society's popular festivals for years. She was 71 when she died on August 1, 2013.
Credit Seattle Chamber Music Society

Northwest music lovers are mourning the death of Toby Saks, founder of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. A major figure in the musical and civic life of the Pacific Northwest, Saks was well known in the region's classical community. Two of Northwest Public Radio's classical announcers remember her:


  Toby Saks was the model of a wonderful, warm, caring human being, who mothered her musicians with food and good humor, beautiful spaces to work and play in, and appreciative audiences who routinely sold out the house. In return, she expected and brought forth world-class performances at every concert.  

She could have rested on her early successes and enjoyed a good career performing and teaching, but Toby's drive was much bigger than that. In creating the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, she stepped into the public arena and created one of the signature events that now define the musical summer in Seattle. The festival's free seating under long evening sunset skies attracted newcomers who might never otherwise have discovered classical music. And that's just a piece of the decades-long story.


Toby's savvy choices of repertoire, performers, venues, and volunteers, and her inspired relationship with her hardworking, capable staff made media people feel welcome and engaged. The result was an ongoing love affair between the Seattle Chamber Music Society and its hometown.


Much, much more will be written and spoken about Toby Saks's great legacy--about how she mentored other Northwest musicians as they created their own chamber music festivals, about how she spotted great talent in young musicians at their earliest stages, about her ability to program a concert like a good chef plans a menu--even her ability to spot and hire talented chefs! 


A great spirit of the Pacific Northwest, Toby Saks was. She touched thousands of lives, and she will be deeply missed, even as her powerful legacy lives on. 




I met Toby during my first go-round at KING-FM, in my capacity as Program Director. Loved her passion for teaching and music-making, and really appreciated that no-nonsense, down-to-earth quality that seemingly permeated her life and her work--much of which overlapped.  In fact, her New York-style approach brought a certain breath of fresh air to Seattle.


A lovely person, a dedicated musician, and a catalyst for artistic growth and support in this community.  She valued her colleagues and, importantly, she embraced her audiences as well.