The Seattle classical music community lost one of its most respected leaders Thursday. Toby Saks was a cellist, music professor at the University of Washington and the founder of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. Her death at age 71 from pancreatic cancer came just after the completion of the annual summer festival that she has overseen for more than 30 years.
Toby Saks was born in New York City on January 8, 1942. She began playing cello at age nine and excelled as a student at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts and later at the Juilliard School. In her early career she soloed internationally and won prestigious music competitions in Israel and Russia.
In 1971 Toby became one of the first women to earn a position in the New York Philharmonic. But Toby Saks said in a 2011 KUOW interview that founding the Seattle Chamber Music Society in 1982 was one of her proudest accomplishments.
I think that in a way that was the most creative year of my life. And when the musicians got off the plane when I went to meet them, I couldn’t believe that this reality had come to pass. I mean just imagine, did I really do this?
Toby Saks and her husband, Dr. Martin Greene, enjoyed hosting festival musicians in their Madison Park home every summer. Saks spent the final days of her life at home surrounded by family. She received visits from students, colleagues and festival musicians who traveled to Seattle to pay one last visit to their treasured teacher, mentor and friend.