Silvia Kind, 94, harpsichordist with a colorful style
Seattle Times music critic
She had an irresistible charm, a fabulous set of fingers and a musical intelligence that made the name Silvia Kind resonate in musical circles around the world.
The Swiss-born harpsichordist, who taught at the University of Washington School of Music from 1967 to 1978, died at 94 of natural causes Thursday in Port Angeles, after a long and active retirement extending from international concert tours to Northwest beachcombing.
Tiny and impish, jubilantly eccentric, Miss Kind was a famous figure around the campus in the 1970s, with her mop of reddish-blond hair and her delight in colorful, unusual clothing. She zoomed from concerts and philosophical societies to Native American powwows in her truck, Pablo, which was named for Picasso.
Even in her retirement years, Miss Kind would entertain visitors by tying a string around her skirt, spreading a paper napkin on the floor and assuming a yoga position — on her head. She inspired students not only with her high musical standards, but also with her Auntie Mame-like enjoyment of life. Everything she did was done with tremendous passion.
Surrounded with papers, recordings and objets d'art, Miss Kind entertained her adored students with tea and fortune cookies in her apartment amid the artistic clutter of driftwood, shells, sea glass, mobiles and the acquired objects of a lifetime in many countries. She kept a kaleidoscope through which she would scan the parade of lights on the freeway at night.
Born Aug. 15, 1907, into an arts-loving family in Chur, Switzerland, Miss Kind first focused on sculpture but soon was drawn into musical studies (piano, flute, counterpoint, composition and conducting, all of which she studied at the Zurich Conservatory). At Berlin's Hochschule für Musik, she met and studied with the famous composer, Paul Hindemith, who later became a close friend — as did the eminent novelist Günter Grass and the pianist Glenn Gould.
It was in Berlin that Miss Kind first discovered the harpsichord, and her preference for that instrument made her piano teacher (the noted Edwin Fischer) furious — but she would not be deterred. She gradually became a highly regarded authority on baroque performance practice and ornamentation, as well as a performer of considerable renown. Her European critics called her "absolutely superior" and "a brilliant virtuoso," praising her "extraordinarily splendid mastery of her instrument."
After a long career in performance, recording and teaching in Berlin and other European cities, Miss Kind came to Seattle for the first time in 1964. She performed a joint concert with the late cellist Eva Heinitz, another feisty virtuoso and UW faculty grande dame who died last year — also at 94.
Not long after that concert, Miss Kind was invited to join the faculty and to assume directorship of the Collegium Musicum baroque ensemble. She was an unorthodox addition to the ranks. During the era of student unrest at the beginning of the 1970s, student dissidents announced plans to take over the music building, and the director (pianist Terry Moore) sensibly ordered all the faculty to evacuate the building.
Miss Kind did not leave. When the angry protesters arrived, she opened the door of her harpsichord studio and reportedly said, "Can't we just talk about this?" She ushered them in — for tea and fortune cookies.
One of her UW colleagues and close friends, bassoonist Arthur Grossman, remembers fondly several decades of performances and recordings with Miss Kind, including concert tours after her retirement and relocation to the Italian Riviera. She later moved to Port Angeles.
"On Thursday, her last day," says Grossman, "she called me around 6 p.m. She asked her nurse to play recordings we had made together." Then she told Grossman, "This is the last time I will talk to you." Grossman demurred, but when Miss Kind hung up, she turned to her nurse and said, "I think I'd like to die now." And she did.
Miss Kind never married and did not have children. "I am not very crazy about children for more than short periods," she once told an interviewer.
She is survived by a niece, Doris Dubs, and a grand-nephew, Uelrich Dubbs; both of Switzerland.
At her request, there will be no services or memorials, and Miss Kind's ashes will be distributed by friends at several of her favorite places around the world.