Thursday, July 31, 2003
Obit: Attilio Poto, 88, Clarinetist, Conductor, Conservatory Teacher

Thanks to Francesco Castellano, who has fond remembrances of "maestro" Poto,  and often saw him strolling around Boston's North End (Little Italy).

"The 'maestro' even conducted on a few occasions the choral group I had founded.
We sang Verdi choruses and other operatic choral pieces."

"Poto was a true artist with a rarefied aura. He was above all, the consummate old world gentleman."

Boston Globe
By Shari Rudavsky
Globe Correspondent
July 31, 2003

Anyone who called or visited Attilio Poto knew instantly the importance of music in his life. Classical melodies or opera blared at volumes normally reserved for concert halls.

A renowned musician and teacher for 44 years at the Boston Conservatory, he devoted his life to sharing that passion with others. Mr. Poto died July 24 of pneumonia at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 88.

''It was always about music with him,'' Mario Forziati said of his godfather and great-uncle, a lifelong bachelor. ''Even though he was alone, he didn't seem to mind it, because he had his music.''

Born in the North End, Mr. Poto spent his early childhood in Italy before the family returned to Boston. By the age of 11, he had begun to play the clarinet. After graduating from English High School, Mr. Poto moved to New York to further his studies.

>From 1939 to 1940, he served as solo clarinetist with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Conducting stints with the Massachusetts State Symphony Orchestra and the Armed Air Forces Sinfonietta in South America followed. From 1948 to 1950, he played for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky and Charles Munch.

During this period, Mr. Poto earned recognition as one of the top clarinet players in the country, said William Seymour, president emeritus of the Boston Conservatory, who headed the school for part of Mr. Poto's tenure there.

Like many musicians of his era, Mr. Poto moved into the classroom. He took a post at the conservatory, teaching clarinet, sight-reading, and conducting, classes mandatory for all students. He was a staunch believer in the one-on-one teaching approach.

The tall and sleek Mr. Poto embodied the image of an Italian gentleman, impeccably groomed and always remembering gifts for everyone at the holidays, former colleagues recalled.

Mr. Poto made an impression on all he encountered. When Seymour met with alumni around the country, ''Almost without exception their first question to me would be, `How's Mr. Poto?''' he said.

Like the great conductor Arturo Toscanini, Mr. Poto favored a long baton, of about 3 feet. Handling such a baton could be treacherous, but not for Mr. Poto, who was a wonder to watch, said Peter Cokkinias, who teaches clarinet and conducting at the conservatory. ''He had marvelous control,'' Cokkinias said.

Mr. Poto's fourth-floor classroom reflected his love of the church, featuring religious artifacts and pictures of the pope and the Virgin Mary, recalled Cokkinias, who teaches in the studio that now bears Mr. Poto's name.

Nearly four decades later, Robert Fritz, now an author, recalls a key lesson Mr. Poto taught him. At their first encounter, Mr. Poto suggested that Fritz master a piece beyond his abilities. Fritz initially demurred, but decided to try. By the following week, he felt he still needed more time to work on the etude. But Mr. Poto pushed him to go to an even more challenging exercise. The pattern continued, and week after week the music grew more intricate. Seven weeks later, Fritz came in for his lesson and Mr. Poto told him to try the first piece. He played it perfectly.

''What he taught me was that the time to move ahead is before you think you're ready,'' said Fritz, who details the ''Mr. Poto'' story in his book ''The Path of Least Resistance.''

Throughout his life, Mr. Poto received numerous honors, including the ''I Migliori in Mens et Gesta'' award for musical achievement, given to outstanding Italian-Americans.

If playing and teaching music was his first love, listening to music was a close second. A regular at the Metropolitan Opera and Symphony Hall, Mr. Poto favored Verdi and other Italian composers. But he also supported his students' efforts wholeheartedly.

''Every performance that went on at the conservatory, every single performance, Mr. Poto was there,'' said James Bynum, director of financial aid. ''Anywhere there was good music, Mr. Poto would go.''

After Mr. Poto's retirement from the conservatory in 1993, he devoted hours to rerecording reams of reel-to-reel tapes and records onto cassettes for future generations to enjoy.

For most of his adult life, Mr. Poto lived in a small North End apartment near the Old North Church with his mother and sister Rose. Although he never had children, he was close to another sister's grandchildren, who called him Zio, Italian for Uncle.

Great-nephews Mario and Mark Forziati loved their uncle, but did not share his passion for music, despite all his attempts to persuade them to learn to play the piano. ''He used to lecture us about how music is so important in everyday life, it helps teach you a language, train the mind,'' Mark Forziati said.

In addition to his great nephews, Mr. Poto leaves a niece, Barbara Kalkanajian, great-nephew Gary Forziati, and great-niece Barbara Vanderwilden.

A funeral was held Monday.

Boston Globe Online / Obituaries / Attilio Poto, 88, musician who taught at conservatory