An internationally acclaimed flutist and pioneer of Seattle’s new music community, Paul Taub died at his home in Seattle on March 13 after a heart attack. He was 68.
“Paul loved that people here were so open to exploring contemporary classical music,” said Susan K. Peterson, his wife of 27 years.
Taub’s passion for new music remained incandescent to the end. He had been planning to perform a world premiere at the spring festival held by the Seattle Flute Society, where he served as director-at-large; he had twice been president of the organization in previous years. He had also been on the boards of directors of Chamber Music America and the National Flute Association.
“Paul was constantly enriching and replenishing our universe with new and exciting projects,” said Seattle Symphony flutist Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby. “The flute world has lost a great citizen and a good man.”
Along with his many accomplishments as a performer, teacher and curator, Taub made an indelible personal impression. “His heart was always open in the most natural way: he was such a generous, kind and sincere person, and he made a huge difference in many people’s lives,” said musicologist Elena Dubinets, Seattle Symphony’s former vice president of artistic planning.
In 1989, Taub founded Seattle Chamber Players, a wind and string ensemble in which Dubinets played a prominent role as adviser. Three Seattle Symphony musicians joined Taub to form its core: clarinetist Laura DeLuca, violinist Mikhail Shmidt and cellist David Sabee.
“His breadth of projects was always on a large scale,” DeLuca said. “He made friends with everyone and had so much joy to share about all topics of life — whether it be the particular flat of peaches at the Farmer’s Market or a recent performance of Mark Morris’ dance troupe.”
Shmidt noted that his friend’s efforts to commission new pieces “enriched both flute and chamber repertoire enormously. This legacy will be enriching our lives for many years to come.”
Seattle Chamber Players established an international presence, commissioning close to 100 compositions and touring four continents. The ensemble also presented a biannual new music festival, called Icebreaker, which enhanced Seattle’s standing within the sphere of contemporary classical music.
This eagerness to share new musical discoveries was paralleled by Taub’s dedication as a teacher to nurturing young talent. After completing graduate studies at California Institute of the Arts, he had initially been drawn to Seattle in 1979 by an invitation to teach at Cornish College of the Arts; he remained a professor there for close to four decades.
“Paul was a successful colleague and role model for students,” said composer and Cornish faculty member Janice Giteck. “He showed students that they could play anything if they mastered their instrument.”
Composer and improviser Beth Fleenor, a shaping force in Seattle’s experimental art and jazz scene, counted Taub among her mentors when she studied clarinet at Cornish. She recalled that he was not only an “encyclopedia of 20th- and 21st-century chamber music from around the world” but “a vast supporter of anything you wished to sonically develop. I think Paul had a seemingly magical ability to see potential in an individual before they even recognized what could be possible.”
Taub was born in 1952 in New York City to an arts-loving family. His father, Leon, was an engineer who played the violin for pleasure; Rena, his mother, was an artist and psychotherapist. They named their son after the Black bass-baritone Paul Robeson, whose combined commitment to art and civil rights Taub deeply admired.
“He was always concerned about social justice — income disparities and racial tensions,” said his brother, Fred Taub. “I remember that he got involved in debate club in junior high and was not afraid to state his point of view.”
After retiring from Cornish in 2018, Taub focused anew on progressive political causes, said Peterson, who joined him in efforts to get out the vote during the recent presidential election. He also enjoyed vegetable gardening and cooking and was for some years co-owner of European Vine Selections, a co-op wine shop on Capitol Hill.
In addition to his wife and brother, Taub is survived by his beloved niece Dana.
“Paul and I had a sweet, close, happy relationship,” said Peterson, who plans to hold a memorial service in the summer, for either in-person or via Zoom, that will be open to the public. On May 30, Seattle Chamber Players will present a livestreamed concert to celebrate Taub’s birthday (May 28) and life. Details will be posted at seattlechamberplayers.org.