Tristan Perich at The Kitchen
Big Ears Festival 2017 Recap


IMG_3935Occasionally, I use this space to reflect on the passing of a notable musician or composer, someone whose contributions deserve to be remembered long after they're gone. Today, I want to talk about my friend Kit Gill, who lost her long, hard-fought battle with cancer on Monday. Kit wasn't a musician - in her younger days, she was a fashion model and editor - but I've never met anyone who cared more deeply about music, or was more generous towards those who made it.

Kit loved all of the arts: music, dance, fine art, fashion. But opera was her passion, and she was a regular presence at the Met, as well as opera houses around the world. (She boasted of having attended 26 consecutive Bayreuth Festivals, which is a lot even for Wagner fans.) If Kit enjoyed a particular production, you could bet on seeing her at every performance, including dress rehearsals. 

In many ways, Kit was unapologetically old school. She had no cell phone, no computer: only a fax machine (!) and a landline. She would send me reviews the old fashioned way: by clipping them out of the paper edition of the Times and sending them snail mail. But, Kit was no fossil. She read widely, and pursued her own blend of radical (chic) politics, finding solidarity with everyone from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Kit had hundreds of friends and thousands of stories that rivaled those of Forrest Gump. There was the time she had the entire Bolshoi Ballet over to her 1820's farmhouse in the Berkshires for a vodka-fueled party after their performance at the Pillow. There were the late nights singing karaoke in SoHo with René Pape. Or weekends spent hanging out at Max's Kansas City with her friend Bobby Short. Or how the billionaire Edgar Bronfman - whom Kit dated after her divorce - would fly up to the Berkshires and land his helicopter on her croquet lawn. 

Improbably, I fell into Kit's rarefied circle of friends. We met in 2011 at a reception hosted by the Wagner Society - of which she was Vice President - at a restaurant near Lincoln Center celebrating the Met's new (and, according to Kit, loathsome) Ring cycle. I'm not entirely sure what Kit saw in me - perhaps she was excited at the prospect of recruiting someone who wasn't in their 70's, or wearing plastic horns. Before long, I was paying Kit regular visits at her richly decorated apartment on 5th Avenue, where she alternated between serving me glasses of wine (she didn't drink herself) and fighting to keep her dogs Happy and Nikki off of the upholstery.

Kit Gill Life 1960
Kit Gill in Life Magazine, 1960

Kit lived life at full-tilt. When she called, her voice exploded into the phone. She didn't walk, she marched: double-time. And, she drove just as fast, which I discovered with some degree of terror the first time I rode with her up to the Berkshires in 2012. It was just three months after her only son Rob died in an avalanche while skiing in Alaska, and I'll never forget the incredible strength she showed as she told me the story, refusing to surrender to any display of emotion. Only once did Kit pause for the briefest of moments before going right back into the story. (Ben Clark's documentary "The Alaskan Way" portrays the incident in gripping detail.)

Her generosity knew no bounds. In addition to being her +1 at the Met more times than I can remember, she helped me get tickets to Bayreuth for the first time, and when I returned, she published my account in the Wagner Society's newsletter. Once, she let me borrow her red Audi to pick up a friend in New Hampshire and bring them back to Sandisfield - about 400 miles round trip. Another time, after her doctors told her she couldn't leave the city because of her chemo treatments, she insisted that I take her car and drive up to the Berkshires myself. In all, I must have stayed with her more than a dozen times, for which she never asked for anything in return. 

I did what I could to pay her back, bringing her to concerts at Carnegie and Tanglewood, including the premiere of Written on Skin in 2013. ("That was really something!" she exclaimed afterwards.) Two summers ago, I surprised her by buying her a modest television after her old tube tv conked out, which she only accepted after a full day and night of protest. 

Fittingly, the last time I saw Kit was in December at the Met, when we saw James Levine conduct Placido Domingo in Verdi's Nabucco. I tried getting in touch with her several times after that, but she never picked up the phone or called back. I soon heard from others that she wasn't responding to them either. Like the former model she was, Kit was always guarded about her appearance, and didn't want anyone seeing her less than her best.

Yesterday, I got one final dispatch in the mail from Kit. It was an envelope with my name and address written in her unmistakable hand, as firm and clear as the day I met her. Inside was a card with a photo from her modeling days, youthful and striking, along with the following message:

"To my favorite friends

I was very happy to know you in my life

Now a final goodbye

And tell you how much I will miss you.

Yours always, Kit"

Even at the end, she insisted on having the last word.

Godspeed, Kit. Days at Tanglewood and nights at the Met won't be the same without you.