He was Seattle Opera's first master of the "Ring," going on to conduct Wagner's four-opera epic for 10 seasons in Seattle Opera, before moving on to more "Rings" at Arizona Opera.
And although Henry Holt, who died Saturday (Oct. 4) at 63, was best known here for his love of Wagnerian opera, he also was a born educator whose lifelong involvement in student programs influenced young people across the country.
Mr. Holt was music director of Seattle Opera from 1966 to 1984.
"Asking Henry to conduct the `Ring' was one of the best things I ever did," said Glynn Ross, 82, Seattle Opera founder who now heads Arizona Opera and was Mr. Holt's lifelong friend.
"I knew he could do it, and he rose to the challenge wonderfully. But he also was probably 49 percent a conductor and 51 percent a teacher. The results of what he has done are tremendous. I tell people, Henry isn't really gone: we just won't see him anymore. We will continue to see what he has done for a long time to come."
For the past six years, the conductor has battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma, complications from which ended his life Saturday in Virginia.
Mr. Holt, born in Vienna in 1934, fled the Nazis with his family, relocating in Los Angeles. There the talented youngster studied music with mentors ranging from conductor Erich Leinsdorf to composer Igor Stravinsky and pianist Arthur Rubinstein. He attended Los Angeles City College, University of Southern California (where
he later taught) and Northwestern University.
In Seattle, Mr. Holt was in on the ground floor of many of the region's performing-arts organizations, helping devise a joint contract for musicians of the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet (of which he was the first musical director). A man of great enthusiasm, he represented local arts interests in boards and panels of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Opera Institute and the Ford and Rockefeller foundations.
In the field of arts education, Mr. Holt worked extensively with the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, the Kennedy Center Education Program, and with Professor E.D. Hirsch's national Core Knowledge movement for children's education.
Mr. Holt was entranced by the beauty of the operatic voice and took an active interest in discovering talent. The interest also took a more personal direction: over the course of his life, the conductor married four singers. He is survived by the soprano Rebecca Ravenshaw-Holt of Warrenton, Va.
As guest conductor, Mr. Holt appeared with the New York City Opera, Washington Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Opera, San Francisco Opera and many others. Mr. Holt held positions at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles City College, Lewis and Clark College and Louisiana State University, and gave opera workshops and classes in conducting, coaching and accompanying all across the country.
Mr. Holt made a mark on many young and aspiring musical organizations, including Utah Festival Opera, whose general director Michael Ballam called him "the spirit of all that nobility and culture embody."
He is survived by his wife, her children Kitran and Devin Colwell; his sister, Lucy Horwitz of Boston; his niece, Celia Pool of Los Angeles, and his nephew, Gavin Perry of St. Louis. Contributions may be made to Utah Festival Opera, in care of Susan Ames, at P.O. Box 3489, Logan, UT 84322-3489, or to the Core Knowledge Foundation, in care of E.D. Hirsch, president, 2012-B Morton Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903.