Obituary: conductor James DePreist, 76

Posted on: February 11, 2013

In Sunday’s (2/10) New York Times, Allan Kozinn writes, “Even in the motorized wheelchair he rode to the podium, or seated on the low swivel chair from which he conducted, James DePreist cut an imposing figure, one that usually got the best from the orchestras he led—whether major ensembles like the New York Philharmonic and the Oregon Symphony, or student groups at the Juilliard School, where he was director of conducting and orchestral studies for seven years. Tall and heavyset, with a shaved head, a trim mustache and a beard that grayed in recent years, Mr. DePreist, who died on Friday at 76, was one of the few black conductors to achieve international renown. And he refused to let disability derail his career; he went on conducting after polio, contracted in 1962, left both legs paralyzed and forced him to use the wheelchair.” A successful conducting debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 1969 “opened doors, and in 1971 the conductor Antal Dorati appointed him associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, a position Mr. DePreist held until 1974.” Guest conducting engagements with top orchestras around the country followed; he also recorded widely with U.S. and international orchestras. “But he became best known for his work with the Oregon Symphony, which he directed from 1980. … After leaving the Oregon Symphony in 2003, he became its laureate music director and moved to New York to join Juilliard.” DePreist was principal conductor and director emeritus at the Juilliard School. He had recently been named artistic advisor at the Pasadena Symphony and Pops in California.

Posted February 11, 2013