Stephen Kates, a renowned cellist and longtime professor at the Peabody Conservatory, died of lymphoma on Jan. 18 at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 59.
A highly respected soloist and chamber musician, Kates appeared with most of the major American orchestras, including those of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, and in numerous chamber music festivals, among them Spoleto, Aspen, Gstaad, Kuhmo, West Bank and Sitka. He also was a guest artist with the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center and appeared in Live From Lincoln Center.
Kates performed at the White House for presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and for other dignitaries including Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev, Princess Margaret of England and Princess Grace of Monaco.
"He was a wonderful cellist," his close friend violinist Itzhak Perlman, told the Baltimore Sun. "He had a beautiful, beautiful sound. He sort of felt the music."
Kates' talent was recognized early. At the age of 22, he was a silver medallist at the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, a feat that was considered especially astounding because the event was at the height of the Cold War. Two decades later, he returned to Moscow to serve as the American juror for the 1986 competition.
Stephen Kates was born into a musical family in New York City, where his father, David Kates, was a member of the viola section of the New York Philharmonic for 43 years, and his mother's side of the family included three generations of professional cellists.
He began his formal studies at the age of 10 with Marie Rosanoff while he was attending New York's famed High School of Music and Art, and he went on to study with Leonard Rose and Claus Adam at the Juilliard School of Music, graduating with honors. Later he joined the master class of world-renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, at the University of Southern California.
From 1983 to 1986 Kates was president of the Violoncello Society of New York and was a member of the American Cello Council, an organization crucial in fostering the creation of American and international cello congresses.
The 2002 fall semester marked Kates' 28th year as professor of cello at Peabody, from which his former students went on to grace important orchestras worldwide, including the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Chicago, Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Baltimore orchestras. In addition to his concert and teaching careers, he enjoyed finding string instruments and having them restored for young music students.
Kates' final performance was on Dec. 18, 2002. At the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, where he had been diagnosed with lymphoma nearly two years ago, he played his favorite pieces and dedicated them to the doctors, nurses, staff and fellow patients.
Kates is survived by his wife of 20 years, interior designer Mary Louise Robbins Kates of Annapolis, Md.; his father, David Kates of Pittsburgh; a brother, Michael Kates of Somers, N.Y.; and a niece, Cynthia Kates-Wilk of New York City.
A memorial concert will be held in the spring at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Contributions in Kates' memory can be sent to The Stephen Kates Memorial Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 773, Edgewater, MD 21037.