James DePreist

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DePreist being congratulated by President George W. Bush after receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2005

James Anderson DePreist (November 21, 1936 – February 8, 2013)[1] was an American conductor.[2] DePreist was one of the first African-American conductors on the world stage. He was the Director Emeritus of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at The Juilliard School and Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony at the time of his death.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

DePreist was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1936. He was the nephew of contralto Marian Anderson.[2] DePreist studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory while earning a bachelor's degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.[2]

Career[edit]

In 1962, while on a State Department tour in Bangkok, Thailand, DePreist contracted poliomyelitis. However he recovered sufficiently, allowing him to enter and to ultimately claim first prize in the Dimitri Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition.[2] He was then chosen by Leonard Bernstein to become assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic during the 1965–1966 season. DePreist made his highly acclaimed European debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 1969, then made appearances with other European orchestras in Amsterdam, Belgium, Berlin, Italy, Munich, Stockholm and Stuttgart.[2] In 1971, Antal Doráti named him associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. In 1976, DePreist was appointed music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, a position he held until 1983.

In 1980, DePreist was named music director of the Oregon Symphony, a position he held until 2003.[2][4] During his 23 year tenure, he led the transformation of the Oregon Symphony from a small, part-time orchestra to a nationally recognized group with a number of recordings. Peter Frajola, a principal violinist who joined the orchestra in the 1980s recalled "phenomenal musical journeys" with DePreist whose influence reached far beyond the music hall into the community.[5] He was the symphony's ninth music director[4] and was succeeded by Carlos Kalmar.[6]

His other leadership roles with orchestras include tenures with the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, the Malmö Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. He also served as Artistic Advisor to the Pasadena Symphony. As guest conductor, DePreist appeared with every major North American orchestra, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Juilliard Orchestra. He also led orchestras in Helsinki, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, London, and many other cities.[7]

DePreist made over 50 recordings,[8] including a Shostakovich symphony cycle with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra as well as 15 recordings with the Oregon Symphony,[8] with such works as Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.[9]

DePreist's star along Portland's Main Street Walk of Stars, showing floral tributes on the day of his death

In 2012, DePreist suffered a heart attack, according to his manager. Never fully recovering, DePreist died on February 8, 2013, at the age of 76, in Scottsdale, Arizona.[10] He is survived by his wife, Ginette DePreist.[8] DePreist had two daughters from his first marriage to Betty Childress, Tracy and Jennifer, who survive him, as do two grandchildren.[11]

Awards[edit]

DePreist was awarded 15 honorary doctorates.[7] He was an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (Kungl. Musikaliska Akademien).[7] He was named the Laureate Music Director for the Oregon Symphony.[7] He is a recipient of the Insignia of Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland, the Medal of the City of Québec and an Officer of the Order of Cultural Merit of Monaco.[7] He received the Ditson Conductor's Award in 2000 for his commitment to the performance of American music.[2] In 2005, President George W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Arts,[12] the nation's highest honor for artistic excellence.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

During DePreist's stay in Japan as the permanent conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, his name and likeness were used in the Japanese manga and anime, Nodame Cantabile,[10] in which he was the musical director of the fictional Roux-Marlet Orchestra, and hired the series protagonist Shinichi Chiaki as the orchestra's new resident conductor. DePreist also conducted the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra to provide the music for both the anime and the live action drama.

DePreist, friends with comedian Bill Cosby in high school, was commissioned in 1987 to rearrange the theme song to The Cosby Show.[14]

Publications[edit]

DePreist published two books of poetry: The Precipice Garden (1987) and The Distant Siren (1989).[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Peter Dobrin (2013-03-05). "Conductor James DePreist memorialized in S. Phila.". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2014-12-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "James DePreist: Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  3. ^ Rollins, Michael (February 8, 2013). "Former Oregon Symphony conductor DePreist dies". Portland, Oregon: KGW. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Mahoney, Tim. "James DePreist (1936-)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Portland State University. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  5. ^ Associated Press (February 9, 2013). "Juilliard emeritus James DePreist dies". The Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, Tennessee). pp. A2. 
  6. ^ Schulberg, Pete (June 29, 2004). "Symphony Unloads on Big Media". Portland Tribune (Pamplin Media Group). Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "James DePreist, Principal Conductor and Director Emeritus at The Juilliard School". The Juilliard School. July 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c Stabler, David (February 8, 2013). "James DePreist, Oregon Symphony's Ground-Breaking Conductor, Dies at 76". The Oregonian (Oregon Live LLC). Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Oregon Symphony Discography". Oregon Symphony. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Tsioulcas, Anastasia (February 8, 2013). "Remembering Pioneering American Conductor, Poet and Anime Inspiration James DePreist". National Public Radio. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  11. ^ Allan Kozinn (2013-02-09). "James DePreist, a Pioneering Conductor, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-29. 
  12. ^ "2005 National Medal of Arts: James DePreist". National Endowment for the Arts. 2005. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Lifetime Honors: National Medal of Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  14. ^ United Press International (UPI) (September 26, 1987). "Cosby Theme Rearranged". Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, California). Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Poetry". JamesDePreist.com. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Pierre Dervaux
Musical Director, Orchestre symphonique de Québec
1976–1983
Succeeded by
Simon Streatfeild
Preceded by
Vernon Handley
Chief Conductor, Malmö Symphony Orchestra
1991–1994
Succeeded by
Paavo Järvi
Preceded by
Gary Bertini
Permanent Conductor, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
2005–2008
Succeeded by
Eliahu Inbal
(Principal Conductor)