Conductor Williams flies under the radar

Posted on: February 12, 2009

In Tuesday’s (2/10) Detroit Free Press, Mark Stryker writes about a little-known nominee at this year’s Grammy Awards. “It was John McLaughlin Williams, a 51-year-old native of North Carolina, who lives in Livonia [Michigan] with his wife and daughter. Don’t feel bad about not recognizing him. He’s also unknown among the classical music elite—in spite of recording 10 CDs, winning a Grammy in 2007 for a performance by French modernist Olivier Messiaen and earning ringing endorsements from producers, musicians and critics. … How can a conductor as obviously talented as Williams remain hidden in plain sight? The answer has to do with his relatively late start and the circuitous path he took to the podium, the unusual repertoire he has chosen to champion and the vagaries of a business in which the best musicians don’t always get the best gigs. … Williams speaks in an even pitch that picks up steam as he latches onto his favorite subject: unjustly neglected composers, especially Americans. … Williams’ Grammy nomination Sunday was in the soloist and orchestra category. The CD, issued on the small domestic label Artek, contains 20th-Century violin concertos by Benjamin Lees and Ernest Bloch, with soloist Elmar Oliveira. It was recorded with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in Kiev.” Williams lost to Esa-Pekka Salonen and Hilary Hahn for their recording of the Sibelius and Schoenberg violin concertos.