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Vic Firth, noted BSO timpanist, drumstick maker, dies at 85

Everett “Vic” Firth with drum sticks made at his factory.
Everett “Vic” Firth with drum sticks made at his factory.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2002

Everett “Vic” Firth, the celebrated principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1956 to 2002 who also started a successful percussion equipment company, died on Sunday in his Boston home at the age of 85.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Rob Grad, a spokesman for his family business, Vic Firth Inc.

Mr. Firth, who first joined the BSO in 1952 and performed under four different music directors, enjoyed wide renown among the city’s musical public.

At the time of his retirement in 2002, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart called him “the greatest timpanist in the world” and then-music director Seiji Ozawa told the Globe: “Vic puts his timpani into the very core of the musical pulse, and that affects everything else that happens in the orchestra.”

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A Winchester native who grew up in Maine, Mr. Firth early on became dissatisfied with the quality of the available drumsticks and began manufacturing his own. The enterprise turned into an enormously successful family business.

In 2002, the Globe described Vic Firth Inc. as “the leading percussion-equipment company in the world.” At that time, it was producing 100,000 pairs of drumsticks each week out of a factory based in Maine. In 2010, Vic Firth Inc. partnered with Zildjian, the Norwell-based percussion equipment company.

There will be no funeral, Grad said, in accordance with Mr. Firth’s wishes. He is survived by his wife Olga and by his two daughters, Tracy Firth and Kelly DeChristopher, both of Boston.


Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.