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Sad news: A liberating American conductor has died

We have received word of the death of James DePreist, one of the first Afro-American conductors to make an international career. He was 76.

A nephew of the segregation-busting contralto Marian Anderson, he was music director of orchestras in Quebec, Malmo (Sweden), Monte Carlo, Tokyo and Oregon. Latterly, he was head of conducting and orchestral studies at Juilliard.

Over the years, he made more than 50 orchestral recordings, inlcuding an early Shostakovoich cycle with the Helsinki Philharmonic.

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Comments

  1. Takao Kanayama says:

    Dear Norman,

    From where did you get this news?

    Takao

  2. I am sad. This was a great conductor. I heard him conduct Mahler’s Tenth Symphony (Deryck Cooke realization) in Philadelphia in 1992, and it was a most beautiful performance. Requiescat in pace.

  3. I’m really sorry to hear this news. He was not only a good conductor but was great to work with and was a great leader. ann

  4. Oh, no!! He conducted “Verklaerte Nacht” in Aspen a gazillion years ago, and he was WONDERFUL–I just loved working with him, as did the whole orchestra. What a loss. And he was only 72…

  5. Norman, I was grateful to learn of him in middle school where I played cello. He was broadcast on PBS conducting the Winnipeg Symphony thru Mahler 4. I held my tape recorder up to the TV the whole concert! I thought, if HE could do it, it’s possible that I could too. Later I played under him with both the Aspen and Detroit orchestras. To the extent that those things mattered to us, a wink and a nod sufficed.

  6. I was fortunate to have conducted for James DePriest and was subsequently invited into his home. Through our discussions, I found him to be a very open and warm mentor willing to share his experiences and ideas freely.

    He was kind to me for no other reason than he believed in what he saw. And for that I am eternally grateful.

  7. Peter Metrinko says:

    I was privileged to hear him conduct the National Symphony several times many years ago. RIP

  8. NMPhotography says:

    Dear Norman,

    Please check his age. He was born in 1936.

    N

  9. I was fortunate enough to work with him when I was 16 years old. He conducted a piece I wrote for a tour led by the Oregon Symphony, and it was amazing to hear him talk about the work in the pre-concert lecture, so thoughtful and inspiring! In his personal life, he battled long and hard against numerous illnesses, including the aftermath of Polio and Diabetes. He had to spend hours in dialyses clinics, and yet never complained about his suffering. What an amazing human being and artist. He will be missed.

  10. Nuvakwahu says:

    A great soul and a great inspiration.

  11. RIP. His recording of Schwantner’s New Morning For The World is utterly captivating (in spite of the narrator!)

  12. Edward Moroney says:

    I believe he was a nephew of the great singer Marion Anderson.

  13. Chandler Cudlipp says:

    It is a great loss to the music world. Although I never had the privilege of meeting him, As Artistic Administrator for the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo in the late 1990′s through 2001 and later as Artistic Adviser for the orchestra, I read his name, studied the programmes he conducted and heard many of the recordings he made with the orchestra. His contribution to the orchestra and to the Principality were significant.

    May he rest in PEACE !

  14. James Forrest says:

    A terrible loss. Sad. Too soon.

  15. David Winn says:

    Maestro De Priest guest-conducted the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, DC) many times in the 1970′s and always impressed us with his superb musicianship, sensitivity and strong rhythmic sense. He was striking to watch and always interesting to hear. may he rest in peace.

  16. Hans Clebsch says:

    Norman,
    Thank you for posting. What sad news. Personally, Mr. DePreist was a very supportive figure. He nearly always seemed to sport a smile, and his laugh was booming. He always used the vowels vaaa, vaaa, voooom when I worked with him in Aspen. He will be missed.

  17. Imre Pallo says:

    I have lost a close and loved friend and colleague, we all lost a great generous human being and musician.

  18. Leonard Slatkin says:

    Jimmy was a towering figure on the American musical landscape. His musicianship, personality and courage will be missed by all.

  19. harold braun says:

    He shaped the Oregon Symphony into a top class band! Great orchestra builder!

  20. A part of his Spirit will always reside here in Oregon.

  21. ruben greenberg says:

    He will be greatly missed. Also a thought for a great African-American conductor who died long ago and had to be the first African-American conductor: Dean Dixon. His career was in Europe, as he complained about having no job offers in the US. Thankfully, this state of affairs has changed.

  22. Jimmy was like a father to me. He ‘took me in’ when I was 16 years old, and I played my first Tchaikovsky Concertos with the Oregon Symphony. He was always so funny, warm and encouraging. I feel so fortunate to have known this richly hued and gentle spirit. So humble and yet so towering in his presence. He and his wife, Ginette, made quite the pair-always poking fun at each other and totally having each other’s backs…such an inspiration to all. We will all miss you sweet Maestro….

  23. Michael B. says:

    Americans are congratulating themselves about how much things have changed when it comes to racial prejudice. Unfortunately, when it comes to African-American composers, things have not changed much, if at all, from the time that James DePreist began his conducting career. For major orchestras in the United States, the best they can generally do is an assistant conductor job where he or she is hauled out once a year for the obligatory Martin Luther King Day concert, then put back on the shelf. Many major American orchestras are still run by society types who are barely accepting of Jews, much less African-Americans. One of the major tasks of Amereican music directors is to schmooze the society types to raise money, a task that many European-based conductors detest, which is a reason why many of them avoid taking jobs as music directors in the United States. That pretty much rules out African-Americans as music directors at major orchestras, no matter how talented. You know things will change when a conductor as talented as John McLaughlin Williams gets a real shot at at least a mid-level American orchestra; he has made a number of excellent recordings of American composers with Naxos conducting Eastern European orchestras. Unfortunately, in this area, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  24. I had the pleasure of attending a Washington, D.C. performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Maestro DePreist. The orchestra really responded to his gentle but assured conducting style. The highlight was a sterling performance of Brahms Symphony 1. It was a performance I shall remember with great fondness.

    Fred Begun, principal timpanist with the National Symphony Orchestra for 48 years, commented to me how much the musicians looked forward to the frequent conducting engagements with Maestro DePreist.

  25. Johanne Perron says:

    He was an amazing inspiration for me. His knowledge, sensitivity, humanity and great musicianship were great qualities in him. I was 16 when I played under his baton and I will always remember this experience.
    He will stay in our hearts always.
    May he rest in Peace.

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